RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond’s eight mayoral candidates told voters at a business forum Tuesday that they would lower business licensing taxes, improve infrastructure, and speed up permit acquisitions.
While most candidates advocated a gradual lowering or restructuring of the business licensing tax, frontrunner Joe Morrissey said at the event, held at the Virginia Historical Society, that he would eliminate the tax entirely.
Morrissey said that the B-Poll tax is not competitive with surrounding counties. In some cases this tax could be three times more than a similar tax in a nearby county.
"It’s an antiquated, outdated tax that’s not consistent with raising revenue in this day and time," Morrissey said.
He added that the lost revenue could be made up by instituting a cigarette tax.
Candidate Michelle Mosby disagreed and said that a similar plan for taxing cigarettes in Norfolk had produced an unreliable revenue stream. Mosby said that the city needed to find sustainable revenue. Candidates Jack Berry, Jon Baliles, Levar Stoney, and Bruce Tyler also disagreed with the idea of eliminating the B-Poll tax.
"I don’t think it’s realistic in the near term to eliminate it. This tax generates over $30 million a year," said Berry. "But we can reduce it."
Lawrence Williams proposed an alternative system under which businesses with less than $100,000 in gross revenue would not be required to pay taxes. Bobby Junes agreed with Morrissey that the B-poll tax should be eliminated, but he also proposed a system under which non-profit organizations would be taxed for money generated at public events.
Candidates all agreed that improvements could be made to the way small businesses acquire permits from Richmond City Hall. Berry said that the web inquiry system for permits had been offline since April. He said that City Hall needed a “complete overhaul [of] systems, technology, accountability, motivation of staff and leadership. I’ve done it before in Hanover County. I can do it again for the city of Richmond.”
Tyler said that in order to speed up the process of acquiring permits everything would need to be online.
Baliles proposed creating what he dubbed a concierge service. Small business owners would have access to a caseworker who would walk them through the process of acquiring permits. Baliles also proposed that public works, inspections and utilities should be available in a "one stop shop."
Most of the candidates oppose previous city initiatives such as the $31 million investment in Stone Brewery. But Michelle Mosby continued to support the project she voted for. She also said she favored the city’s support for the Washington Redskins training camp.
"The city itself has not paid the Redskins," Mosby said.
All mayoral candidates agreed that Richmond’s infrastructure, particularly sidewalks and roads needed work.
Levar Stoney said he would find money to repair roads with potholes and cracked sidewalks by auditing City Hall and restructuring the system around high performers.
"Potholes and sidewalks are symptomatic of a larger problem in City Hall. That larger problem is a lack of leadership," Stoney said during an interview after the forum.
Junes proposed that potholes could be fixed by prison laborers. He suggested that if prisoners did good work, their prison sentence could be reduced to half of the time.
He said the opportunity would only be offered to nonviolent convicts and no one would be forced to participate.
The candidates will be appearing again at a forum on Thursday at the Library of Virginia to discuss education issues.
It will be a public forum, but it is already sold out. Remaining seats will be given to guests on a first-come-first-served basis
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.