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City Council nears repeal of occupation tax

Feb. 25, 2013 @ 11:46 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Huntington City Council has begun the process of repealing the city's 1 percent occupation tax.

After an executive session Monday to discuss the maneuver and an unrelated personnel matter, council members introduced the ordinance repealing the tax and advanced it to a second reading. The ordinance is on track for a vote during the March 11 meeting.

City Council approved the tax in 2011, but Steel of West Virginia, Cabell County Commissioner Bob Bailey and several other parties challenged its legality in Kanawha Circuit Court before it could take effect. Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey has not issued a ruling in the case.

City officials began negotiations with the plaintiffs to settle the case a few months ago but they hit a snag. Mayor Steve Williams said the plaintiffs wanted the city to pay for their attorney fees, a request that the mayor vehemently opposed. The plaintiffs have since backed off of that request, he said.

"(Repealing the tax) is my effort to show the plaintiffs that I'm being true to my word," Williams said.

In other business Monday, the council unanimously approved the appointment of Carl Eastham as Fire Chief. Eastham was named the interim chief Feb. 18 after Williams removed Randy Ellis from the position. Williams said at the time that he replaced Ellis because Williams had worked closely with Eastham during his mayoral campaign and had grown to trust him.

Eastham retired from the Fire Department as a captain in 2011 after 26 years of service. He also was president of the local professional firefighters' union and was an officer at the state level for several years.

The council also unanimously approved a resolution that designates a section of the Fairfield West neighborhood as a slum and blighted area.

The designation is part of an effort to replace the aging Northcott Court public housing complex on Hal Greer Boulevard with affordable housing elsewhere.

City officials have joined forces with the Huntington Housing Authority to provide more modern public housing in Fairfield West and make available the four acres of Northcott Court property along the busy Hal Greer Boulevard corridor for commercial development. City officials say the project also will redefine an area that has been plagued by crime and give a facelift to one of the main arteries into the downtown.

The slum and blight designation will cover Hal Greer Boulevard to 20th Street between 9th and Charleston and Hall avenues. Twelve percent of the 512 structures in this area are vacant and another 41 percent are code deficient or economically not feasible to rehabilitate, said Charles Holley, director of development and planning. The designation will make the city eligible for grants and low-interest loans in its quest to complete the redevelopment project, he said.

The council also referred to its Public Safety Committee an ordinance that prohibits residents from storing certain items on their porch or front yard. The items include upholstered furniture, mattresses and any other products not intended for outdoor use. The ordinance also prohibits building materials being stored outdoors unless they are for a permitted project on the property. Penalties include fines of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, or both.

The ordinance is part of Williams' multi-pronged approach to improving the quality of life in Huntington by stepping up code enforcement.

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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