Ontario’s new tax stirring opposition

Ontario’s new tax stirring opposition

Update: The Ontario City Council decided to push back the first reading of the sales tax ordinance to Sept. 19. Initially, the council planned to conduct the first reading of the proposed edict Thursday, Sept. 7.

 

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

ONTARIO — Dan Lopez said he doesn’t know the fine details of a proposed 1 percent sales tax for Ontario.

He doesn’t like the idea, though.

Lopez, co-owner of Treasure Valley Steel just outside of Ontario, said other business owners feel the same way.

Lopez said questions linger regarding what the city will do with the money collected from the tax.

“I hear them say things like, it would better the streets. It would better the pool. A list of things. But you have yet to hear the city say this is the plan and we will use it for this and this and this,” said Lopez.

Lopez’s business isn’t within city limits. Yet he is focused on the sales tax because he said one day his business could be annexed into the city.

The new tax – which will fall mostly on retail merchandise – is expected to generate about $3 million a year for the city. Some things, such as items subject to state tax, will be exempt from the levy.

The money, said City Manager Adam Brown, will be used to shore up the city fire and police departments and for street maintenance.

The Ontario City Council will get the first reading of the sales tax ordinance Thursday. The public can speak at the meeting.

The council process requires a second reading, scheduled Tuesday, Sept. 19. The tax could be approved on then or at the next council session Tuesday, Sept. 26.

If the council passes the ordinance, the tax would take effect in January.

Lopez said resistance to the tax is widespread in the Ontario business community. Many merchants, he said, don’t plan to stick around Ontario if the tax goes through.

“At least half a dozen said right off that they will close up shop and move out into the county,” he said.

Lopez said a gathering at Fiesta Guadalajara last month – attended by more than 30 people – demonstrated that many people were worried about the proposal.

And there are signs there may be an effort to put any council-approved sales tax on the ballot for city voters to consider.

Lopez said some business owners are upset the council isn’t referring the matter itself for a public vote.

Lopez said the council’s decision indicates a disconnect exists between city leaders and Ontario voters.

“They’ve made it clear they are not going to listen,” said Lopez. “They’ve made it clear they are going to do it.”

Brown said the council listened to public testimony before moving ahead.

“They’ve received a lot of feedback that they are elected to make those tough decisions,” said Brown.

Scott Armstrong, owner of Lindsay Ecowater in Ontario, agrees with Lopez.

“I can’t think of a single good thing it would accomplish,” said Armstrong. “I think there is a lack of reality of some really well-intentioned people on the council.”

While no one so far has announced a referendum effort, Lopez and Armstrong said they would support the effort.

The sales tax can be put before voters through a petition signed by 10 percent of the registered voters in Ontario, or about 523 signatures. Brown said the city is aware a referendum on its decision is possible.

“We are supportive if the citizens want to do that,” said Brown.

If opponents gather enough signatures to force a public vote next May, Brown said implementation of the sales tax would be put on hold.

Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at pat@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377.

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