We understand the need and we understand the March 15 ballot deadline, but we are not enthused about the Curry County commissioners’ rush to put a sales tax proposal in front of voters.
First, to the naysayers: All residents of Curry County will lose vital public services if we don’t find a way to raise $3 million a year; we’re convinced of that. These are local services and we need a local solution – one that does not include closing down the public safety system.
For the immediate future, there are some smaller bits of possible funding or potential budget cuts, but only a countywide tax of some sort comes close in timing or magnitude.
Which brings us to the discussion: creating a sales tax versus an increase in property tax.
A sales tax, say proponents, would be minimal and controllable. So far, the commissioners are talking about 3 cents on every dollar of spending, not taxing food and services, and locking in the details so that only voters can change them. The hope is to collect a “fair share” of taxes from tourists and our shopping visitors from Crescent City.
Even so, there are some very real concerns:
•Creating a new tax system will be costly. Some estimate that the cost will be more than the revenue getting to the county. Frankly, we would rather pay $1 for taxes – instead of up to double that for both the tax and the cost of collections.
•A sales tax is regressive. Even with all the exclusions, it falls the hardest on those who spend all their money, and spend it locally because they cannot shop online or drive out of town for purchases.
•The “leakage” from a sales tax can be considerable. Buy furniture from the store, and you pay the tax; buy it from a friend or neighbor, and you don’t.
•A sales tax will drive purchases out of the county – by the Internet, by phone or by travel. We expect the chambers of commerce will have some very real concerns about the impact on business.
We doubt a sales tax will pass with voters in May, leaving the county just one chance – the November ballot – to find another solution that will be acceptable to voters.