Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has begun talking about a reality that has hampered the city’s growth — prevented it, really — for decades. That is, many people would rather live in newer houses outside city limits than in older houses inside the city.
That’s why Williams is introducing an ordinance to give tax breaks to people who build new housing or remodel older housing in town to make it more attractive to homebuyers.
Let’s face it: Probably the largest developer of single-family houses in Huntington the past decade or two or three has been Habitat for Humanity. That’s not a good reflection of the housing market here.
When the city council meets July 27, it is expected to give the first of two required readings to Williams’ proposed ordinance.
Williams presented his proposal — the first of several — to the city council’s Administration and Finance Committee last week. It would eliminate business and occupation taxes for contractors or subcontractors of single-family homes in Huntington or for the renovation of existing houses.
The city assesses a B&O tax of 2% on contractor or subcontractors on the construction or renovation of buildings, specifically of single-family homes. The ordinance would eliminate this tax beginning Oct. 1 from the first $200,000 of gross revenue.
The coronavirus outbreak has people and employers rethinking the need for centralized operations in urban areas that rely heavily on mass transit. Those situations are prime conditions for communicable diseases such as COVID-19. Spreading the workforce out among several cities reduces the likelihood of having a hot spot such as New York City.
This gives Huntington an opportunity to be relevant again in the world of industry and commerce. It was just 30 years ago — one generation — that Huntington was home to a company whose stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. About 20 miles away were corporate headquarters of a Fortune 500 company. The region had research and development centers whose engineers developed ground-breaking processes and patents.
We had a number of locally owned banks. We had small manufacturing operations that made products sold nationally and internationally.
The people who ran those industries, whether in an office or on a factory floor, lived in Huntington’s neighborhoods and gave the city energy that has been dissipating.
Now many of those businesses are gone along with the financial, intellectual and managerial resources they brought to the community.
While that was happening, the development of four-lane highways and the extension of water, sewer and telecommunications services outside the city made Pea Ridge, Ona, Rome Township and other areas within a 30-minute drive of the city attractive. New housing was built there and relatively little was built within city limits. People decided that with utilities, they didn’t need city services and city taxes so much.
Can Williams’ tax breaks reverse that trend? Of course not. Not by themselves. But they could be the first steps in making Huntington more competitive in the local housing market and, by extension, in business recruitment efforts.
Looking ahead, Williams’ plan to make the city more attractive to homebuyers should be a topic for him and Republican challenger Scott Caserta to hash out in this year’s election campaign. Let them explain why people should live in the city and why businesses should be here. Let them disclose how they would make that happen.
The story of many incorporated communities in West Virginia and in the Ohio Valley is one of growth and decline. Few have been able to reverse their decline. Let’s hear how Huntington can be one of the few.