A brouhaha in Buckley over a proposed business and occupation tax looks to have come to an end.
The overall issue is that the city is projected to have a growing budget deficit that could exceed a million dollars by 2026, if city officials don’t find additional revenue or make any cuts.
Among several suggestions city staff put forward on Aug. 15 was a business and occupation (B&O) tax that, if approved by the council, would have skimmed 0.1% of gross revenue from businesses into the city’s coffers.
The proposal was met with swift condemnation from various businesses and the Buckley Chamber of Commerce; perhaps no one was more vocally against the tax than Chamber Secretary Carolyn Harding.
“We’re not going to stand for them taking $1 from our hard [working] families,” she said in a later interview, adding that local businesses not only already contribute to the city’s general fund via property taxes, sales taxes, and permit fees, but are also involved in other ways around Buckley. “We all do things to benefit the community.”
While some council members were slow to publicly opine about the B&O proposal, all seven came out against the proposal during the Sept. 5 council study session.
“I cannot see a B&O tax at this point in time, with us trying to grow commerce and us growing,” said Council member Milt Tremblay, adding that he believes it would be better to have developers pay more money, in exchange for faster permit approval.
After the meeting, Harding thanked the council for listening to local businesses.
“We want the city to be successful… but not on our backs,” she said. “We’re very pleased the council heard us and recognized we’re all on the same team.”
The proposed B&O tax came with a stipulation that any businesses making under $20,000 in gross revenue would not have to pay the tax, and that the first $20,000 for all other businesses are exempt. City Administrator Courtney Brunell estimated that out of the roughly 273 brick and mortar businesses in Buckley, about half would have been exempt under this threshold, which the council has the option to change.
With that threshold, a business that makes $200,000, for example, would only have to pay $200; it was estimated that such a tax would have brought in about $160,000 in 2024, were the tax implemented.
Alone, the tax would not be enough to cover the projected 2024 budget deficit, estimated to be between $455,000 to nealry $700,000, but the council is considering other options to bridge that gap.
FEE INCREASES, PASSPORTS, AND SERVICE CUTS
Far more popular than the B&O tax is the proposal to put to voters a emergency services levy lid lift to support the Buckley Fire Department.
At this time, the EMS levy rate is 35 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value; the lid lift would likely bring the rate back up to its 50 cent maximum.
While the additional revenue would be allocated strictly to the fire department, it would free up some general funds to flow elsewhere in the city.
In addition to that potential revenue, the 2024 budget will likely include increased passport services, increase business license fees, increased permit fees, and additional recreation revenue from venue rentals.
Even with a hoped-for $248,000 additional revenue from those sources, the city will likely have to use American Rescue Plan Act funds from the COVID pandemic to balance the books.
But ARPA funds are dwindling, which means the city might have to look at service cuts or layoffs in the near future; a property tax levy increase has also been proposed, but the city appears reluctant to attempt to place both the EMS levy lid lift and a property tax increase on a ballot in the same or following year.