Rate increases, meals, cigarette tax hikes discussed

The Valley Banner

ELKTON — Residents didn’t object to Elkton Town Council’s plans to raise their water and sewer rates and meals tax when the panel met Monday night, but a representative of one town merchant expressed concern about a potential cigarette tax hike.

Kishankumar Parikh, the 19-year-old son of Jayant “Jay” Parikh, told the council members that increasing the tariff to 30 cents from 20 cents will further encourage people to buy their smokes at the GoMart and other stores in unincorporated areas of Rockingham County, where only state and local sales taxes are charged.

“Most people are buying cigarettes outside Elkton to avoid the tax,” Parikh, whose family operates Family Convenience at 94 N. Stuart St., said during a public hearing on the proposed increase held in Council Chambers at the Elkton Area Community Center. “Increasing the tax is giving them more incentive to move their business out of town.”

To provide money for its proposed $5.66 million budget for fiscal 2018, council also is considering raising its meals tax from 6 percent to 7 percent.

Council members also intend to boost water and sewer rates for all users by 2.5 percent, which they couch as a “cost-of-living adjustment.”

Former councilman Randell Snow was the only other person to speak during the public hearing on tax and fee increases.

Snow said he supported the water-and-sewer increases but questioned whether the panel had the authority to charge a 7 percent tax on prepared food and beverages, saying he thought the state had a 6 percent cap on what towns could levy.

Wayne Printz, Elkton’s mayor and acting town manager, said he’d checked with Town Attorney Nathan Miller and was told the proposed hike was legal.

Snow also said he wished the town would use the money from cigarette taxes to pay for parks and recreation and cultural affairs activities, which he said was the council’s intended use for the money when the tax was created.

When the budget public hearing was held, Snow was the only person to speak.

He mainly asked questions about the budget process and how the town was raising enough money to account for a $285,000 increase in spending.

Snow also inquired as to whether next year’s spending plan includes money to continue work on the former Town Hall.

The building was flooded; mold remediation and asbestos removal work recently was completed.

Printz responded that no money has been set aside for the building because council isn’t sure what the next step might be for the structure.

Snow also encouraged the council to do more public relations.

“We need to get out to the public what we’re doing well,” he said. “We should do that.”

Councilman Joshua Gooden, Snow said, once pushed for a town newsletter, but the idea was shot down because of objections to postage costs.

The council members also held first readings on the ordinances raising the meals and cigarette taxes, raising the water and sewer rates and authorizing the FY18 budget.

The panel is expected to vote on all five measures when it meets next Monday. The new budget year begins July 1.

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