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Wellington may get some help from legislature

Sun Advocate associate editor

State Rep. Patrick Painter listened to Wellington's mayor and council earlier this year when they briefed him on how the legislature inadvertantly crippled the city's budget.

Now he's prefiled a bill to fix it. The bill, HB 42, cleared the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee with only one dissenting vote. It is being sponsored in the Senate by Curtis Bramble, Painter's co-chair on the committee.

As Painter explained it, the intent of the legislation is to empower the the state's Permanent Community Impact Board to issue a grant to a city that is having trouble meeting its bond payments because of a reduction in sales and use taxes.

That sounds like Wellington. When the legislature exempted certain mining equipment from sales tax back in 2008, the town saw its revenue plummet by about $180,000 a year.

Not only did the city have to lay off some workers, but it also had no money to make payments on its $1.1 million loan for road improvements from the CIB.

"The legislature goofed and it put Wellington in a bad way," Painter said Tuesday. "It was unintended and this bill should take care of that."

If it passes, the legislation will authorize the CIB to grant up to $1.1 million to a city of the fifth class which has the paperwork to demonstrate it has experienced at least a 15 percent drop in sales tax revenue.

Not only that, but the city has to show that this revenue had been coming from coal mining or coal mining support industries that were in city limits as of Jan. 1, 2008.

That sounds exactly like Wellington. And that makes Mayor Ben Blackburn happy.

"[Painter] and Sen. Bramble were both very well prepared," Blackburn said.

The mayor said the balance of the CIB loan is slightly more than the $1.1 million authorized, but the city should be able to handle that.

However, the legislation would only cover the city's ability to pay back the loan. It does not offer any support for rehiring or other city services.

Meanwhile, Blackburn remains adamant that Wellington will not sign on to any modification of the loan's terms. One such offer from the CIB would have deferred payments for 20 years, but the mayor declared he's not going to saddle some future city administration with the debt. It will be either the grant or default.

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