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County delays fourth sales tax reading

By Valliant Corley
Pilot Staff Writer

GOLD BEACH – Curry County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously agreed to delay a fourth reading on a proposed ballot measure to impose a 3 percent sales tax that had been scheduled for next Wednesday, saying they have more proposed changes before they set an election.

“I know citizens have indicated questions about it. I, myself, am not ready to determine a date for the fourth reading,” Commissioner David Itzen said.

The necessity for a quick date for a tax vote for a revenue measure decreased last month when the County Budget Committee approved a draft budget that allows county government to operate for the full fiscal year beginning July 1 by borrowing $700,000 from the road fund, taking $350,000 that had been set aside for vehicle replacement and including a large chunk of the county’s working capital, used to pay bills.

But county commissioners have warned that unless there’s another source of revenue coming within the year, the county would cease to function on July 1, 2013.

The committee will hold budget hearings for a week, beginning May 14. At Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners worked on ways to leave $100,000 in the vehicle replacement fund by continuing to have departments contribute toward it.

Commissioner George Rhodes said Tuesday he felt it was the best interest of the board to gather more information as they continue to work on the sales tax proposal.

“I think the board should reconsider the date for the fourth reading,” he said.

Rhodes said he has some concerns about the tax proposal as it is now written and he would like to have Dan Olson, the tax attorney working with the commissioners, consider some more changes.

Some changes were made two weeks ago when commissioners approved a third reading of the tax proposal.

They added a sunset clause to end the tax after five years if it was not extended by voters.

“There are some minor changes and a couple of substantive changes,” Olson told the commissioners.

He said there is a provision that exempts food stamps and WIC purchases from the tax.

Olson said that most food items are exempt from the tax anyway, but this makes the measure compatible with federal law.

Another change exempts wood for heating sold in units of half a cord or more.

Curry County has one of the lowest property tax rates in Oregon for county general services, because federal timber sales payments or support payments have in the past been sufficient to pay for the services.

A sales tax is one of many options proposed to the commissioners to help make up the loss of revenue. Another possible option is a property tax.

Commissioner Bill Waddle, using figures furnished by the state Department of Revenue and Oregon Legislative Revenue Officer Paul D. Warner, has predicted that the 3 percent sales tax, even with a long list of exemptions, would raise $5.04 million a year for Curry County.

Exemptions from the tax include food bought to take home and cook but not food that’s prepared to eat.

Prescriptions, gasoline, liquor and tobacco would be exempt, as would be motor vehicles. Items at a hardware store would be taxed as well as paper goods and clothing.

Dining out, food would be taxed as well as nonalcoholic beverages, but not alcohol.

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