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"Weatherill, city council take back gambling tax hike"

"After a three-month long battle with City Hall, Warren and Janell McManammy, owners of High Tide Tavern, breathed a sigh of relief Monday night.“Basically, I feel like the city is finally looking out for small businesses, which can only help Port Orchard,” Warren said. Until recently, the McMannamys and six other Port Orchard business owners didn’t feel that way. Starting last October, they fought a proposed gambling tax increase, but the measure was passed anyway by the City Council on Dec. 13. Consequently, pulltab taxes rose from 3 to 4 percent of gross revenues and cardroom taxes from 10 percent to 15 percent of gross revenues.The hike didn’t sit well with Mayor Jay Weatherill, who vetoed the measure. Then, on Monday, some council members had an apparent change of heart and voted 5-2 to uphold Weatherill’s veto.Had Weatherill’s veto failed, the measure would have taken effect Jan. 1Many restaurant and tavern owners worried from the start that the tax hikes could put them out of business. All seven said they depend heavily on revenue collected from pull tab sales, which is almost always used to sustain other parts of their business.Weatherill has vetoed only one other measure in his 16 years as mayor. In November 1996, he blocked an ordinance that required businesses to pay $25 for a business license application. The veto was upheld. Vetoing “is an uncomfortable situation for myself, because it puts me at odds with the council,” Weatherill said. “So I only exercise that tool when I feel I absolutely must. In this case, this (gambling tax) measure was really off. In my opinion, it placed an unfair burden on a select group of businesses.”And it wasn’t as if the city was desperate for the money, Weatherill noted. “The city isn’t going to take any kind of hit,” he said. “The city hasn’t experienced a budget deficit.”After the veto was upheld, council members voted unanimously to craft a new ordinance that would put pulltab and cardroom rates at 1979 levels and institute state-mandated reductions on bingo and raffle sales. Warren Van Zee, a staunch supporter from the beginning of gambling tax hikes, was one such council member to have a change of heart.“The veto gave me a second chance,” Van Zee said. “I went home the night we passed the ordinance and I felt like I hadn’t done the right thing. I kept remembering what business owners had asked us. They wondered why the city actually needed to raise gambling taxes, and why the city needed the money. They also pointed out that if the money was for enforcement purposes, the had never seen a policeman come around” to enforce gambling practices.Even Councilman Tom Stansbery, who along with Councilman John Clauson voted against Weatherill’s veto, congratulated Steve Wilson. Wilson owns and operates the Endzone Sports Bar, another establishment that relies heavily on pulltab revenues.Wilson said he will probably save between $6,000 and $8,000 this year because the tax hikes failed.“I was honestly glad he got what he wanted out of this,” Stansbery conceded later. “Steve has been very passionate about it. Not that I thought these tax increases would put (all gambling-dependent businesses) out of business, but they felt that way, and that’s what is really important.”Stansbery said he voted to override Weatherill’s veto because an increase on the tax, which had remained the same since 1979, seemed reasonable.Councilman Don Morrison also had a change of heart, voting in favor of the veto. Councilwoman Carolyn Powers, who also voted to uphold the veto, was absent due to illness when the measure was originally improved. Council members Bob Geiger and Rick Wyatt, who own businesses, were against the measure from the beginning.The seven gambling businesses in Port Orchard annually generate about $95,000 for the city via the gambling tax. And they said they are thankful the city came to its senses because they couldn’t afford much more. “When you just barely get a profit margin and the city wants to take that away from you, then there’s no reason to be in business,” Warren McMannamy said. “I might as well get a job working for the city.”“What a battle,” his wife said."

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