The borough budget debate continues. The borough assembly will have another hearing on next year’s budget when it meets again next week.
After the assembly rejected Mayor Charlie Pierce’s initial plan to balance the $4 million gap in the budget, a number of tax proposals have been put on the table. Some are back for seconds. Assembly member Dale Bagley says feelings about a borough-wide bed tax have changed since it was first proposed more than ten years ago, and was rejected by voters on the fall ballot in 2005.
“It only failed by nine percent. The last three years we’ve had some tax proposals on the ballot. All of them failed by way more than nine percent and I think attitudes have really changed with the public on the bed tax. I’m pretty optimistic that it will pass the assembly and pass with voters.”
A possible reason for that change in public support may be the potential for a bump in property taxes. Another proposal would ask voters to accept a raise in sales tax and if they don’t, the mill rate would automatically go up. That’s a scenario the assembly has been trying to avoid. The goal has been to fill as much of the budget gap as possible with outside dollars.
“To balance the budget, we could raise the mill rate. I wish the public understood that better, that we don’t need to go to them with a tax proposal. It’s just putting the tax on the backs of property owners and I’d rather it be on the backs of the people that come here. That’s why there’s been such a controversy at the assembly and mayor level is trying to work through this issue without doing a mill rate increase," Bagley said.
Rolling back certain exemptions has also become part of the conversation. Borough residents enjoy a break from sales tax on non-prepared food items for nine months out of the year, again, as an effort to target visitor spending during June, July and August. Bagley would like to see that tax holiday only applied for six months. In part to bring in some extra revenue, but also to make the bookwork a little easier.
“I would like to go to six (on) and six (off) and then it’s nice and even on the (fiscal) quarters and we capture the shoulder season for tourists and then in the heart of winter, we don’t tax groceries. It does bring in about $1.4 million in revenue, which goes along way toward closing the gap without a bed tax or some other vote.”
These proposals and others will be up for debate when the assembly meets next on Tuesday, June 5th.