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Committee discusses additional tax on alcohol, pull-tabs

 

Kyle Clayton / Petersburg Pilot

The sales tax committee will meet again on February 25 to make final recommendations to the assembly. Changes to the senior exemption, the $1200 tax cap and initiating additional alcohol and tobacco taxes are options on the table.

The sales tax committee discussed with citizens additional taxes on alcohol and pull-tabs last Tuesday.

The mission of the committee is to simplify the sales tax code and collection procedures and to generate an equal or greater amount of revenue so the borough doesn't have to decrease services or increase property taxes.

That means it's looking at every option before it makes recommendations to the borough assembly.

Many of the Petersburg residents who attended the meeting urged the committee not to recommend taxing pull-tabs.

Many local organizations and charities receive pull-tab revenues dictated by state gaming requirements.

Sally Dwyer attended as a representative of The Sons of Norway, which among other donations provides college scholarships to graduating Seniors.

"If sales tax is collected on pull-tabs there will be less money going back to the community," Dwyer said. "Donations to the Salvation Army, KFSK, Children's Center, Petersburg Schools and such groups will see less funding every year because there will less to give."

A handful of individuals representing other local organizations also spoke out against taxing pull-tabs.

"As far as the committee's concerned, I think the goal would be to help the community," committee member Sue Flint said. "It sounds like we're already helping the community."

Member Lee Corrao echoed Flint's sentiments.

"We don't have an agenda to get something from somebody unless it makes sense and then it would only happen if the whole community agreed that that's what needs to happen," Corrao said. "It's a decision that all of us as citizens get to make and not something that's going to be forced on anyone."

Any changes the committee recommends will first go to the assembly then, depending on assembly approval, on October's ballot for voter approval.

The committee also discussed the possibility of placing an additional tax on alcohol. Communities such as Craig, Barrow and Juneau have similar taxes.

Committee member and co-owner of Kito's Kave Hillary Whitethorn is against such a tax because it wouldn't be fair to her business.

"Fifty percent of our revenue comes from liquor store sales and we're fighting with Costco and the online sales and out-of-town sale just as much as any other business," Whitethorn said. "That would be one more added expense for us."

Liz Bacom, lab and imaging manager at Petersburg Medical Center, attended the meeting in support of a tax on alcohol based on the strain alcohol related patient encounters put on the hospital. She cited more than 100 alcohol related patient encounters during 2012.

"There are more encounters for cigarette related, coughing, shortness of breath, emphysema...but the per dollar cost of health care services are much higher for alcohol related because they're more acute," Bacom said. "When you have chronic problems you can qualify for other kinds of health insurance but when you have an acute problem like alcoholism its really hard to get insurance to cover."

PMC CEO Liz Woodyard also attended the meeting and requested a dedicated tobacco tax be used to help fund the hospital. She did not make a similar request for alcohol but did reinforce Bacom's statement regarding the lack of payment and insurance coverage regarding those types of patient encounters.

The borough currently provides around $30,000 to Petersburg Mental Health Services for alcohol related programs. Flint said a tax on alcohol could be a way to offset those funds.

The committee also discussed taxing fish boxes for charter customers.

It meets February 25 to put together formal recommendations to the borough assembly.

 

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