The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted no on Monday to a proposal that would have raised sales tax revenue on certain items; and yes to a sales-tax holiday on the first Saturday following distribution of the Permanent Fund Dividend.
The first proposal would have eliminated the senior sales tax exemption for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. Borough officials estimated that removing those items from the exemption for senior citizens would generate an additional $25,000 for the borough.
Ed Zastrow, president of the local AARP chapter, told the Assembly before the vote that local seniors appreciate the senior sales tax exemption.
“We realize that this is a major privilege that our seniors enjoy, and I want to thank you very kindly for that,” he said. “As the saying goes — and this in total agreement with the entire group: We as seniors are happy with what we have; we’d like to keep what we have; and we don’t need any more.”
While Zastrow didn’t come out against the proposal, he also didn’t give a ringing endorsement.
During Assembly discussion of the issue, there was clear reluctance.
Assembly member Glen Thompson said such a regulation would be an added burden to local businesses.
“In the case of tobacco, especially, and alcohol – you can buy tobacco at the grocery store, you can buy in various different places with other products,” he said. “So, now the vendor has to separate out that sale, especially difficult in a restaurant establishment. Now you’re going to have to sign the page – (the) I’m a senior citizen exemption – all this stuff is going on. It’s already complicated enough.”
Most on the Assembly agreed with Thompson. The measure failed in a 2-5 vote, with Assembly Members Judith McQuerry and Mike Painter voting yes.
The vote on the sales tax holiday was tighter.
Every year that it’s come up, Assembly Member Thompson has spoken strongly against it, and this year is no exception. He said the sales tax holiday is a gimmick, and if the borough wants to ease the tax burden, it should do so across the board — not just on one day for only retail businesses.
Assembly Member Felix Wong, though, said if the gimmick helps local businesses, he’ll support it.
“I personally know of friends who are business owners who are more than happy to help contribute with bake sales and helping nonprofits, and they are taking the load off of us,” he said. “If we can help these businesses for just one day of the year, I’m all for it.”
The motion passed 4-3 with Thompson, Painter and Assembly Member Rodney Dial voting no.
Also on Monday, the Assembly adopted an ordinance that changes borough code to redefine requirements for publishing public notices in the local newspaper. The borough at this point will continue to publish notices in the paper, but will work with newspaper representatives to cut the cost of those ads.
With passage of the ordinance, though, the Assembly could at a later time direct borough staff to reduce notices published in the paper.