Northwest NEWS

June 1, 1998

Local News

Community members speak against admissions tax

  by Andrew Walgamott
   Staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--Those against taxing Woodinville tourist district events won a small victory last week. The City Council's finance committee recommended that the five percent admissions tax not be extended to performing arts and entertainment events held at venues such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, Redhook Brewery and Columbia Winery. The district has been exempted since the tax was created last year.
   Councilman Randy Ransom, who originally brought the proposal up for a fact-finding discussion, believes this issue will now die. "I don't know that it will even go to a vote," said Ransom. But others in the community weren't so sure. The full council has the ultimate say and was expected to discuss the issue this Monday night at 7 p.m. in a study session.
   "We don't know [what they'll do] until the fat lady sings," said Phyllis Keller, Woodinville Historical Society president. Keller, along with former city councilman Art Saulness and Cascade Valleys Heritage Corridor member Don Julien, lobbied the finance committee last Tuesday night. Keller's group has used the Stimson Mansion on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle for their functions in the past free of charge. "We feel very strongly this isn't a relationship we want damaged," she said afterwards.
   Julien noted that the wineries and brewery are basically industries that make products, but also allow the public to use their grounds for events. "Frankly they don't have to do these things. If we make it onerous they may not do it," he said. Saulness, an accountant who wrote the tax ordinance last year, said he spoke economics to the committee. He said there was a possibility that raising revenue in one area of the budget could reduce the take overall.
   Their input was effective for committee members Ransom and Barbara Solberg. "After hearing their arguments it was the opinion of the finance committee to leave the exemption in place," Ransom acknowledged. But there were indications that the idea wasn't dead. Councilwoman Carol Bogue said she would support "equity in the tax." She is on the finance committee but was absent from the meeting due to illness. "If we're going to enforce it in one place, we ought to enforce it in another," Bogue said, but said she still needed more information before making a decision.
   Councilwoman Marsha Engel attended part of the committee meeting but wasn't persuaded by the lobbyists. She said she would vote to lift the exemption. "....The admissions tax would be paid by the ticket buyer, not the host of the event," Engel said speaking to claims that the city would be taking $100,000 from charities. The tax is on top of regular ticket prices.
   Mayor Don Brocha said there could be room for a compromise between the city and businesses. "If the issue is truly charity, I think we can work something out," Brocha said. Engel said she was willing to give the affected businesses a percentage of the tax to pay for accounting. But Brocha felt that "charity" was an emotional card the businesses were playing. He hoped to strip the emotions from the issue and work on the substance at the June 1 council meeting.
   The admissions tax has been mainly targeted at the new movie theater, though it has yet to collect a cent from box office sales, according to the city. If extended to the wineries and brewery, it could rake in $100,000 a year for parks. Unwilling to raise property taxes, the council has been looking elsewhere for ways to fund its road and park needs. Last January, the council passed the utility tax.
   While industry officials believe they are being unfairly targeted with taxes, City Manager Roy Rainey believes differently. "It's the exact opposite of that. The City Council has bent over backwards to help business," Rainey said. Even before the city finishes its long-promised Wilmot Gateway Park, it will build a $600,000 pedestrian bridge and trail that will lead Sammamish Valley Trail users to Redhook and Columbia.