In Clintwood, Virginia, population 1,549, businessman Randy Davis said he would move his tobacco business out of town if the Clintwood city council won’t do away with a newly instituted 10 cents-per-pack cigarette tax. The city council decided to consider a 5 cents-per-pack tax instead and promised to hold a public hearing on the proposal. The reduction was passed on August 16, and the tax was cut from $.10 to $.05.
Davis, owner/operator of Davis Tobacco in Clintwood’s West End neighborhood, told the city council on July 13 it was “running business out of town.” He said, “You all don’t know what you are doing, but you are hurting every business in town.”
Approximately 15 people attended the meeting to support Davis. He presented a petition he said was signed by more than 800 people who opposed the tax. The cigarette tax took effect July 1, the start of the city’s 2004-05 fiscal year. The ordinance required the tax to be paid on every cigarette sale in town.
The city council had begun talking about a cigarette tax in September 2003 as a way to generate more money for the town. It held a public hearing the following month. Davis, who owned the West End building in which Davis Tobacco was located, along with the lot it sits on, and Shawn Baker, who operated the business at that time, voiced opposition to the proposal. The council tabled the issue at that time.
Thinking the cigarette tax had been defeated, Davis said, he bought the business in May 2004, when Baker moved to Richlands. “We thought this thing was dead and didn’t worry about it any more,” Davis noted.
But the city council reconsidered the tax while drafting the 2004/05 budget. The council advertised the proposed tax with its budget, and the bill passed.
Davis said he didn’t see the notice and only found out about the tax ordinance after it passed and after he had remodeled his building and invested in inventory.
“It is stuff like this that runs people out of Clintwood,” Davis told the city council. “It is no wonder people are so aggravated with their council. You won’t tell them anything.”
He called the 10 cents-per-pack cigarette tax “taxation without representation.” He asked the gathering, “Why don’t councilmen tell the people what is going on since they were elected to represent the people’s interest?”
In an interview, Davis said he needs the town’s support for his business to survive. “Do you want me out of town as a business, or do you want me to stay?” he asked. “I need council’s support and I need the citizens of this town and county. You are messing with my livelihood,” Davis added. “If council doesn’t do away with the tax, people will start buying tobacco products outside town limits, and stores that sell the products will suffer,” Davis said.
“We are taxed to death. We need to try to get business in this town and hang on to what we have,” Davis said. “The only way to rectify a wrong is to make it right,” he added.
Following Davis’ comments, councilman Roy Fletcher suggested the city council consider a 5 cents-per-pack cigarette tax. Danny Lambert offered a second, and the motion to consider the idea passed unanimously.
Rena Powers is a staff writer for Coalfield.com, which includes the following newspapers: The Coalfield Progress, The Dickenson Star, and The Post. She can be reached by email on the Coalfield.com Web site at [email protected]. Reprinted with permission.