WHEELING — About 90 downtown businesses affected by the ongoing construction around Main and Market streets in Wheeling will be eligible for a one-time exemption in the city’s business license fee.
The city approved the business license fee exemption this week as construction zones downtown grew even larger with work continuing on major water line replacements, causing traffic to be restricted or closed.
City officials have been fielding concerns from owners of downtown businesses that have been inconvenienced by the barrage of construction along the city’s main thoroughfare in recent months. Many businesses emerging from the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have been met with the counterpunch of trying to operate in the midst of continuous construction.
The city of Wheeling plans to complete millions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects downtown within the next several months, installing new water lines and storm sewer systems underground ahead of the West Virginia Division of Highway’s $25 million Downtown Streetscape Project. The long-awaited Streetscape improvements will not only create a new core of utility infrastructure underground to support future development downtown, but will also bring new streets, sidewalks and light signalization to the city’s main traffic arteries in the heart of the main urban business district.
Until all of that work is completed, however, many downtown businesses will be seeing orange barrels and heavy equipment right outside their doors.
This week, members of Wheeling City Council voted to approve a resolution to offer a one-time exemption to the city’s business license fee to those businesses in the downtown area that have been affected by the ongoing construction. The legislation passed with one dissenting vote from Councilman Dave Palmer, who said he supported measures to bring relief to downtown businesses but would have preferred to further discuss options.
“I have nothing against helping our businesses,” he said after this week’s council meeting. “I just feel like we should have had some more discussions about ways we can help.”
Suspending the city’s business license fee provides a relatively small level of relief, as the fee schedule ranges anywhere from $15 to $600 per year for affected businesses. Palmer noted that business license fees for the current fiscal year were due on June 30, which means businesses that are current on their fees have already paid the license fee through mid-2022.
Officials indicated that the fee suspension would be implemented during the next fiscal year for those eligible. The resolution was designed to expire or “sunset” on June 30, 2023.
The amount owed for the business license fee in Wheeling depends on the type of and size of the business. General business licenses are $15. Insurance companies — which by state law are exempt from Business and Occupation or B&O tax — pay a $100 fee. Those with Alcohol Beverage Control Administration licenses pay a higher fee. Beer, wine and liquor retailers pay $250 per year, while wholesalers pay $500 per year.
Businesses classified as “private clubs,” fraternal organizations, or other nonprofit, social clubs with ABCA licenses and fewer than 1,000 members pay $600. These types of clubs with more than 1,000 members pay $1,250, but city leaders indicated that no businesses within the affected downtown area fall into that category.
Inconveniences experienced by affected businesses have ranged from temporary water service disruptions to lack of parking, reduced commerce in the wake of restricted traffic and other challenges of doing business in the middle of a busy construction zone.
“The downtown construction work has put a burden on some of our downtown businesses,” Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said. “Waiving the business license fee is one small way city council can help. We realize the projects occurring are an inconvenience for many, but it paves the way for the many improvements coming in the very near future.”
Businesses deemed eligible for the one-time exemption are those located in the parameters of Main and Market streets downtown between Ninth and 16th streets, as well as the cross streets of 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th and 16th streets. Wheeling Finance Director Seth McIntyre said this encompasses an area downtown that includes fewer than 100 businesses.
“For the area that’s been defined, we’re talking about 90 or so businesses,” McIntyre said. “And the license fees associated with those businesses in total would be about $7,000.”