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Mayor vetoes admission tax

A 5 percent admissions tax increase was passed by the Port Orchard City Council Monday evening — but the ordinance won’t get very far, because Mayor Kim Abel will use her power to veto for the first time since taking office in 2004.

The admission tax, raised from the one-tenth of 1 percent, would go into the city’s general fund. Councilman Robert Geiger proposed to reroute 75 percent the funds to pay for entertainment developments for the community and the remaining 25 percent to the Police Department to help cover the costs it incurs at late-night concert events.

His motion got bogged down by the details of the amendment, including omitting exemptions for admissions at nonprofit and school-related events, and failed to obtain the needed second motion to be discussed.

The ordinance passed without the designation, and Abel said Wednesday she would veto it and send it back to council to further discuss some of Geiger’s ideas.

“If you’re going to raise a tax, it better have some value to it,” she said Wednesday. “If they would agree and bring something back with more of that in it, I would be more than happy to sign it.”

Abel will send the ordinance back to the council for consideration at its Dec. 10 meeting, suggesting the tax be designated for youth-based recreation activities, such as portable skateboard ramps and a summer youth program in 2008.

“By designating the proceeds, the city will start a process of supporting our community’s youth in a new way,” Abel wrote in a written statement Thursday. “Folks in our community paying the tax will know they are contributing to activities for the youth right here in Port Orchard.”

Chang said he is happy to revisit the discussion, having expressed interest in Geiger’s amendments at Monday’s meeting.

“I’m a fan of that in general because I like the idea that you have separate accounts for different purposes,” he said Thursday. “Whether it’s youth facilities or recreation — I think it’s just a great opportunity to focus what we’re going to do with the admissions tax.”

Critics of the tax have called it discriminatory, and Geiger initially opposed the tax outright at a Nov. 12 meeting.

Geiger recently leased a theater he owns at 802 Bay Street to Bainbridge Entertainment Enterprises, Inc., which plans to re-open the theater as The Orchard.

Geiger said local businesses struggle to stay open and make a profit, and the imposition of this tax would make it harder.

“You go to work every day and you don’t know whether you’re going to pay the light bill or get a dollar for yourself,” Geiger said.

Bainbridge Island Entertainment also opposed the ordinance in a letter sent to council prior to the meeting.

“In the opening stages of our business, we’ll need all the help we can get from both the community and our city council,” according to a letter signed by Bainbridge President Sam Granato and Executive Vice President Jeff Brein. “Forcing us to raise prices before we even open the doors is a most unpleasant message etched on the welcome mat.”

Bruce Gardiner, executive director of the Motion Picture Exhibitors of Washington, said Port Orchard gained its current theaters in part from the low tax rate, which was established in 1989 to prevent Kitsap County from imposing its own 5 percent admissions tax rate on theaters within city limits.

“Your population doesn’t really justify the number of screens in this area,” he said. “And I believe it occurred because of the inducement of the admission tax.”

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