|County one step closer to sales tax on ballot|
|March 02, 2012 09:15 pm|
GOLD BEACH – The Curry County Board of Commissioners on Friday approved a first reading of a resolution to place a county sales tax on the May Primary Election ballot, but they emphasized that a final decision has not been made.
“This is a proposed sales tax ordinance. It is the first reading,” County Counsel Jerry Herbage said as the special meeting opened. “No decision will be made today whether this will go on the ballot or when.”
The commissioners scheduled another meeting for March 15 for a possible second reading of the ordinance. If that reading is approved, the tax will go on the ballot.”
The commissioners consulted with their tax attorney Dan Olsen of Portland by telephone and with County Counsel Jerry Herbage as they worked on the proposed ordinance.
The proposal calls for a 3 percent sales tax with many items exempt – especially groceries and prescription drugs. But prepared food, such as in a restaurant or from a grocery deli, would be taxed.
“There will be more taxes paid by people who don’t reside in Curry County than people who do,” Commissioner Bill Waddle said. “We’re going to have tourists and Californians paying more taxes.”
He said that those who say that Del Norte County residents who now shop in Curry County will stop coming are wrong.
“I don’t think they’ll be deterred by 3 percent. It’s a lot less than what they’re paying now,” Waddle said.
The commissioners worked with Olsen in a workshop on Thursday going through proposals and refining the ordinance. They worked more on Friday before holding the first reading, with Olsen and Herbage given permission to make final tweaks before the March 15 meeting.
Olsen said the proposal is based on a proposal in Lane County that was never adopted, the Ashland city sales tax and sales tax law in California and Washington.
“It does not tax services and does not impose a use tax,” Olsen said. “It only applies to sales that physically occur in Curry County. It does not apply to catalog or Internet sales.”
Olsen said that merchants who collect the tax would keep 5 percent of what they collected for their expenses.
“The tax is imposed when the sale is made. The merchant files quarterly and makes the payment,” he said.
Olsen said the commissioners would not be able to increase the tax once it’s on the books.
“To increase the tax would require a vote of the people,” he said.
“If the voters approve, the tax is not required to be collected until the board approves – up to 90 days,” Olsen said.
Prescriptions would be exempt but not over-the-counter drugs.
Wholesale goods sold to merchants would not be taxed. They would only be taxed at the final sale.
Garage sales and estate sales are exempt, as well as sales to a governmental body.
Delivery charges would be exempt.
Animal medication would be exempt, but animal food would be taxed.
All utilities would be exempt. Building materials sold by a contractor would be exempt, but those purchased by a homeowner for home repair would be taxed.
Pete Peters, a member of the Citizens’ Committee which made 19 recommendations to the commissioner, spoke at Friday’s meeting.
“We gave you 19 things on our recommendation,” he said. “A county sales tax was number 17, two from the bottom.”
Peters said the commissioners should have tried some of the other recommendations first.
“The transit lodging tax is a no-brainer. It was something the taxpayers would buy. It would show you are trying to bring in a bit of money,” Peters said.
Waddle said that the lodging tax would bring in at most $500,000, and 70 percent of that had to be spent on advertising for tourists.
He said that would not run the county for 10 days.
“That’s more of a PR thing,” Peters said.
He said the county ignored the first recommendation on how the county should operate: “You three and a business manager. That hasn’t been talked about.”
Peters said the committee was ignored when it said no tax should be placed on a ballot before November.
“I think you upped your failure rate by 70, 80 percent,” he said.
“I have concerns about putting it on the May ballot,” Commissioner George Rhodes said. “But if we don’t have additional funding between July 1 and Jan. 1, I would recommend to the board we send a declaration of financial stress to the governor immediately.”
Commissioner David Itzen said he felt the commissioners should keep their options open.
“If you want to keep the May option open, you have to have two readings 15 days apart,” Herbage said.
Herbage said the board would send their latest proposal to the state Department of Revenue to be evaluated to determine how much it would raise.
The commissioners had approved spending up to $5,000 to contract with a municipal tax specialist to help decide whether the sales tax should be implemented.
At Thursday’s work session, they asked Olsen how much of that had been spent. He said it all had. Commissioners then agreed to raise the limit to $10,000, but did not want to spend the entire amount.
Olsen was one of three tax attorneys who had bid on the job. His was the lowest at $175 an hour. The other two were $420 and $290 an hour.
Herbage said the money would be available in the budget because Deputy County Counsel Jeni Meyer, a halftime employee, had recently had her baby and would be taking time off.