Voters may see sales tax this fall

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer June 11, 2013 09:08 pm

Curry County commissioners will debate today (June 12) the details of a proposed 3 percent sales tax that will likely go to the voters this fall.

It’s only been a month since voters rejected a property tax designed to help the county preserve public safety services, but commissioners plan to ask voters this September or November to approve a sale tax that could generate approximately $5.7 million in the first year.

At today’s meeting, commissioners will discuss details, including how the sales tax can be implemented, what should be exempt and when it should be put to the vote.

Also, they will consider suggestions proposed Tuesday night during a brainstorming session with the mayors of the county’s three cities.

“A sales tax is not our first choice,” Commissioner David Itzen said. “It’s complicated. But it will work.”

Commissioners selected a 3 percent rate based on last year’s Citizens Committee’s 19 suggestions. A 2 percent sales tax with no exemptions was deemed to be regressive and harmful to those living under the poverty level or on fixed incomes. But a 3 percent rate with exemptions seemed more acceptable to officials.

The upstart costs of creating a sales tax would be about $500,000. The county would likely borrow money from its road fund to pay for it. That  amount doesn’t include cost of hiring three to five staff to collect the tax.

On Tuesday, Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog told commissioners that his council would prefer any tax proposal be placed on the November ballot instead of September, giving officials more time to figure out details and inform the public.

Commissioner Susan Brown agreed.

“That’s not enough time to do anything,” she said.”

The logistics are complex enough, officials agreed.

If the sales tax is approved it will take about three months to get it established among merchants and the assessor’s office. It will take an additional six months before revenue begins to come in.

And then there are the exemptions – many of which were acceptable to all, and others that commissioners will ponder further.

Possible exemptions include food purchased at a grocery store or farmers market, medical items, utilities, home heating, wholesale items, real property, the “casual, infrequent” sale of goods at such events as a yard sale, items purchased out of county from the Internet or catalog, cars, boats, motorhomes, and items that are prohibited by state or federal law such as food stamps, liquor and gasoline.

But that’s a small list of items the commissioners will consider.

“We’re in a little bit of unchartered territory here,” Itzen said. “All forecasts are subject to error. It’s kind of a guess.”

“We’re going to have to take a risk,” said Gold Beach Mayor Carl Popoff. “But we don’t have a choice.”