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Sales tax code changes dominate ballot measures


Pending ongoing Petersburg Borough Assembly approval, six of the seven ballot measures on this October’s ballot would increase sales tax revenues for the Petersburg Borough and change the municipal sales tax code, all of which require voter approval.

Four of the measures involve the senior sales tax exemption, which exempts individuals 65 years and older from paying the borough’s six percent sales tax.

One measure would establish a sunset date, December 31, 2019, when the exemption card would no longer be issued. However, those who already receive the exemption would continue to do so.

A second change would limit the senior exemption to borough residents only.

A third would require proof of one year of residency in the form of a permanent fund dividend document.

A fourth change would limit the senior sales tax exemption to groceries and residential heating fuel only.

Some proponents of the changes cite an increasing senior population as a reason to limit the exemption's accessibility and use.

According to borough data, seniors collectively saved around $267,000 in exemptions in 2012 compared to $180,000 five years ago—a 48 percent increase while overall sales, before exemptions, increased by 17 percent.

Assembly members Cindi Lagoudakis and Bob Lynn voted against establishing a sunset date, but the rest of the measures were approved unanimously on first reading.

“I can tell you there are a lot of people who are in need around here who don’t have a lot of money,” Lynn said during an earlier meeting when the issue of a sunset date was first discussed. “I couldn’t even begin to vote yes for this one.”

Member Jeigh Stanton Gregor said voters not assembly members should decide on these issues.

“Regardless of our own opinions, I firmly believe this is a decision that should be made by the voters, and I’d be willing to approve this measure so it can appear on the October ballot,” Stanton Gregor said.

Another change involves increasing the sales tax cap to $2,000. Currently, consumers don’t pay sales tax above $1,200 worth of purchases.

The final proposed change to the sales tax code would impose a tobacco tax. A wholesale excise tax of $2 per pack of cigarettes and 45 percent of the wholesale price on other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, would be implemented.

Petersburg Medical Center CEO Liz Woodyard has officially requested tobacco tax revenues go toward the PMC capital budget but nothing has been formally decided should voters approve the tax.

The changes come after the borough’s Sales Tax Review Committee made its recommendations this past spring. Aside from establishing proof of residency, the committee voted against changing the senior exemption further. The committee also suggested raising the tax cap to $1,500.

The assembly discussed changes and adjustment of the tax cap in June.

The changes will go through a public hearing at the next assembly meeting and a final reading in August before they go on the ballot.


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