CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Interviews with several Charleston City Council members indicate Mayor Danny Jones is likely to find support for his proposal to finance renovation of the Civic Center with a new city sales tax.
Jones unveiled the proposal Tuesday. He is also pitching cuts in the city's business and occupation tax and hopes the net yield will be $3.5 million a year to use for renovations to the aging Civic Center.
The 0.5 percent sales tax would be levied on all items sold inside the city except for non-prepared food and automobiles. It would be in addition to the 6 percent state sales tax.
East End Democrat Marc Weintraub said he was very supportive of the plan.
"I think the mayor has looked long and hard for other funding to renovate the Civic Center," Weintraub said. "I think he has come up with the most practical solution to this problem."
At-large Democrat Mary Jean Davis also supports Jones' plan.
"The main thing is we need to upgrade the Civic Center," she said.
Jones said Wednesday his plan is a viable way to fund the much-needed renovations to the Civic Center.
The facility is too antiquated and small to accommodate some conventions, he said. That means less money for local businesses and less city tax revenue.
He said a renovated Civic Center would attract larger conventions with more attendees, who would in turn spend more money in local shops and restaurants.
Councilman Andy Richardson, an at-large Democrat, said a better economic climate would lead to more jobs.
"I view this as a jobs bill and a stimulus for downtown," Richardson said.
He said he wanted to look at the proposal further but so far thinks it's a good idea.
"It's a half a percent sales tax," Richardson said. "And any tax burden comes with challenges.
"But I think the stronger our convention and visitor business is, the stronger our retail sales will be."
Convention business is an economic engine for Charleston, said Jama Jarrett, vice president of operations and communications for the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In 2010, 59 groups held conventions and events here, Jarrett said.
A renovated Civic Center would allow the city to grab even more business, but doing nothing would mean more money slipping through the city's fingers, she said.
Jarrett said the city lost about $28 million in convention business over the last several years because the Civic Center was not large and modern enough to fit the groups' needs.
Councilman Cubert Smith, an East End independent, wants more time to analyze the issue before he takes a stance.
"This was just announced yesterday," he said. "I need to look at it closely."
Smith has often opposed Jones' initiatives. In this case, he said he understands that "it takes tax dollars to run a city."
"A city can't run on grants forever," Smith said.
Smith recently went to a West Virginia Municipal League meeting where he heard Huntington Mayor Steve Williams discuss how that city is dealing with its financial difficulties.
Huntington enacted a 1 percent sales tax during former Mayor Kim Wolfe's administration. The tax went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.