Westfall Township, Matamoras, PA
November 8, 2012
A public hearing was held on Thursday, November 8, 2012 for the purpose of taking public comment on the proposed Amusement Tax for Westfall Township. The meeting was held at the WestfallTownshipBuilding on Delaware Drive and LaBarr Lane, Matamoras, PA18336 at 7:02 p.m.
Those present were Chairman, Robert Ewbank, Vice-Chairman, Paul Fischer; Supervisors, Raymond Banach, Larry Flansburg, and Robert Melvin; Solicitor, Robert Bernathy and Secretary, Lisa Green. Also present were Treasurer, Scott Myer, Allen Johns, Beth Brelje, Rick Lander, Dave Jones, Michael Barth, Lisa Mickles, Eric Hamill, Luis Bocaletti, Suparmanto, Manager of the Best Western and approximately 30 members of the general public.
Chairman Ewbank thanked everyone for coming to the meeting stating we would be having a public hearing on the Amusement tax and turned the meeting over to Solicitor Bernathy.
Solicitor Bernathy said this is the date, time and place for the continuation of a previous proceeding that was conducted by the supervisors with specific regard to impose an amusement tax. That proceeding was held on October 2, 2012 and we are going to incorporate the minutes of that proceeding into the minutes of this proceeding. Since we were last here changes were made by way of modification to the amusement tax ordinance and those changes were advertised on three occasions in the Pike County Dispatch and proof of publication with regard to those advertisements will be incorporated into the preceding. When we last were here at the supervisors acknowledge that there was significant discussion and a lot of questions were asked. With that the supervisors as part of the continuation agreed to schedule a meeting with local business owners and invited them to attend a meeting on October 17, 2012. That meeting did occur and unfortunately the only business owner that came to the meeting was for Malibu Dude Ranch indicating that they had no objection to the amusement tax. Since we were last hear we have been able to gather some additional information regarding some of the businesses that are conducted by way of amusement here in WestfallTownship and we are going to supplement the record with specific regard to some information that was put together for us by the Eastern Pike regional Police Department. That is a docket of all of the responses made to some of the businesses that provide amusements in the Township. It is fairly significant as far as responses are concerned and the Township also notes the additional emergency response that is provided by various emergency responders here WestfallTownship. Again for purposes of economy we note that there are persons here who have already been heard at the previous proceeding. What we would like to do is ask if there is anyone present first who did not have the opportunity to be heard at the October 2nd proceeding that those persons be recognized. If there is anything that they would like to say for purposes of the record Solicitor Bernathy asked that they would raise their hands and be recognized.
Suparmanto the General Manager for the Best Western Inn at Hunts Landing said he believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to improve the life and the continuation of growth and this Township yet he believes that all of those in the amusement business are being penalized. Suparmanto said that he knows it will affect his business because those people that are coming in on bus trips are elderly and any time he tries to raise the rates they say they can’t afford it.
Solicitor Bernathy asked attorney Hamill if he was here on behalf of anyone. Mr. Hamill said he is here on behalf of himself. Solicitor Bernathy asked if he was a resident of the Township. Mr. Hamill is not. Solicitor Bernathy asked if he owned the business and the Township. Mr. Hamill said he is a shareholder and on the board of directors of Slatestone Hunting Club and he is here because he saw the tax in the paper and he feels it has a strange impact on landowners as well as business owners here in the Township. He sees this tax as a strange tax commenting that if he plays a game of pool and puts for quarters and the machine is there going to have to be an extra slot to put the penny in? Otherwise it the 1% will come off the business owner’s gross income. So he believes it is a fairly significant tax even though it seems small. Giving further examples such as football game charging three dollars and having to pay $3.03. Mr. Hamill said someone would have to go down to the bank to pick up change to give out, stating they won’t do that they will just take it off the top of the three dollars and lose money. Commenting that the next step would be hiring somebody to do the tax returns because it’s due by the 10th of the next month. Suggesting this is a significant burden to the business owners. Mr. Hamill questioned if tricky trays and turkey shoots are going to be taxed as well. Mr. Hamill said for the past couple of years he has been contacted by Berkheimer Associates, wanting him to disclose his payroll and employees to see if one of his employees lives in an area where there is a local income tax. Further stating that if he needs to file additional tax returns he will not hire somebody from an area that has a local income tax. Saying the tax is not really being paid by someone else. It’s coming out of the business owners.
Supervisor Flansburg asked Mr. Hamill if he is suggesting that the tax should lie squarely on the backs of the residents. Further stating that everyone is standing up and saying don’t hurt us while all of the residents in the Township are already being hurt. Discussion followed. Supervisor Flansburg said we did not meet the Fire Department budget or the Police Department budget this year and for the additional money that we may collect on the amusement tax it might make that up.
Chairman Ewbank said each year we have to go to Court to ask for an increase above the 14 Mills that we are allowed by law to tax and this year we need to ask a 2.7 mill increase instead of the 1.7 Mills we’ve been requesting for the last several years.
Supervisor Banach said it is not to hurt the businesses, it is to make it fair for the residents commenting that someone who owns a $1 million home in Westfall Township will pay the same tax rate as the Best Western. Further questioning how many times did the homeowner call the Fire Department and the Police Department and have the ambulance come to their house. How many times are they using the service and yet they’re taxed at the same rate. There are people who come into our town and do things. Saying if it’s three cents its three cents and the business owners are saying that doesn’t count. But we are cutting things on our budget that are $10, $20 and $50 and if you keep putting pennies in the jar it adds up. Supervisor Banach further stated yes it may be a little bit of a burden but Solicitor Bernathy often speaks of the Earned Income Tax and we could take every business owner who earns $100,000 and tax them 3% and the School District will tax too and in his opinion that’s not fair because you’re taking the higher earners in the Township and giving them a double whammy. Saying the low income people don’t care because it’s not a big tax for them. This tax the board fails is fairer because it will be passed on to the transient person who uses our facilities.
Mr. Hamill feels the businesses supplement the income of the area as opposed to the households because the households burden the schools and add to the roadways. The business may call emergency responders more, but they are paying more tax.
Supervisor Banach said at the last meeting, it was disclosed that Kittatinny Canoes paid approximately $7000 in property taxes to WestfallTownship, Landers pays $395 and Indianhead pays $633. Mr. Hamill said they also employ the local kid, buy gas here and he feels we are biting the hand that feeds us. Discussion followed.
Chairman Ewbank said we have figures from the Westfall Fire Department showing their cost over the past several years to be over $50,000.
Michael Barth asked if the school is exempt. Solicitor Bernathy said we’ve calculated the figures and the amount of money from the school district would be up proximately $200. Stating we may be able to negotiate with them in order to cut down on what happens internally with the school district. Solicitor Bernathy said we are sensitive to that. However, does not find that the school district is exempt. Mr. Barth said he knows if you use the ambulance you are charged for it and questioned why can’t we charge for river rescues. Supervisor Melvin said the fire department soft bill’s and in doing that after two attempts at billing they do not go into collection. Supervisor Flansburg said we as a Township cannot bill for that.
Beth Brelje questioned of the $50,000 that Chairman Ewbank mentioned to be a cost to the Fire Department how much of that is from private citizens that took canoes on the River as opposed to who rented from the livery owners. Chairman Ewbank said those costs are for the purchase of the boat, boat repairs man-hours and not split up by users.
Luis Bocaletti, who represents the Westfall Township Fire Department wanted to let the people present know that this tax was not the idea of the Fire Department. Stating they may benefit from it but the whole amount of the tax will not go to them. Chairman Ewbank said we cut the Fire Department budget this year and we are trying to find a way to give some money back to them. Supervisor Melvin said in fairness to Luis the Fire Department did not ask the supervisors to impose this tax. Supervisor Banach stated the police and fire are always the first areas that get cut because that is the easiest to cut. And that is exactly what we cut this year. Supervisor Banach continued by stating the Westfall and Mill Rift Fire Departments are doing an excellent job, it is just that their departments were the easiest to cut.
Allen Johns, representing Have a Hoot Family Fun Center addressed Supervisor Banach and said he was out West hunting and that $.50 tax that was brought up at the last meeting is voluntary. Supervisor Banach said in Colorado and Texas he had to pay it and there was no way around it. Mr. Johns continued by stating it is an optional fee and questioned who are the transient people that the supervisors speak of, is that Milford and Port Jervis or is that just 50 miles away. Chairman Ewbank answered that is people that do not live in the Township that use our facilities and roads. Mr. Johns said he did not get notified of the October 17th meeting. Chairman Ewbank said that was at special meeting that was set for the purpose of meeting with the business owners which was agreed to at the October 2, 2012 meeting. Discussion followed. The business owners did not recall setting that date, however the Township recorded it in their meeting minutes. Supervisor Flansburg said we have a letter from the Attorney representing the canoe liveries stating that they would not be there. Mr. Jones said that was news to him.
Mr. Johns said the last time he heard from the Township was when his electrical permit fee got raised from $50-$302. Mrs. Green corrected Mr. Johns, stating that his fee did not get raised. The $50 was a review fee that’s paid at the time of application, and the $304 is the total permit fee. The Township did not raise the fee. Mr. John said in either case he did not know about the meeting. Supervisor Melvin said that Malibu Dude Ranch attended the meeting. Supervisor Flansburg said that it does not mean that the doors closed the Township is still willing to talk before we vote on the tax. Mr. Johns said he would rather pay the Township $1000 then pay a CPA $2000 to do the books. Chairman Ewbank said we still have to see if it is worth imposing the tax. Supervisor Flansburg said he wants to go on record as saying we are still open to conversation.
Mr. Jones said he believes that this tax is going to cost us more than we will earn and he also believes that they are exempt from this tax under two different exemptions. One is federal and one is from the tax itself. Stating his attorney said this is exempt but he really does not want to have to go to court over this. Mr. Jones said he just had a meeting with his accountants who told him he is losing money this year and will either have to increase his revenue or decrease his costs or he would not be around much longer. Mr. Jones continued by saying his business is not really worth anything for someone to buy because it is actually losing money, and he cannot afford a 1% tax on his business. Also having to come up with the gross income by the 10th of the month is nearly impossible. Mr. Jones said if Berkheimer were to audit him they would be there for days and he does not believe that they would charge the Township 3% to have an employee there for several days. Mr. Jones continued by saying this is a declining industry and he spent a lot of money trying to bring tourists to this area, stating that he is better off walking. Supervisor Flansburg asked Mr. Jones if he had seen the report from the Upper Delaware on the canoes that were put in the River last year stating it was shocking and grossly underreported. Mr. Jones did not see the report. Supervisor Banach said it is baffling because we were told to call the National Park Service to get our figures and we did that and it showed Kittatinny Canoes having just over 2000 canoes in the River last year. Mr. Jones said that report is not accurate. Discussion followed. Supervisor Banach said we were given a task to figure it out and we did that and this is what we received. Mr. Jones said in the whole upper Delaware there are less than 200,000 canoes being used which is why he built the zip line.
Chairman Ewbank said we have a letter here that the Pocono Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that they had a record income of $4,528,928 last year when at the meeting the representative made it sound like everyone was losing money. Mr. Jones said maybe because there’s a lot of growth in many areas. Chairman Ewbank said they get a 3% room tax from every hotel and motel in the Township and we want to know why some of that money can’t come back to us. Mr. Jones said that money goes to promote tourism not just here but in the Poconos. Mr. Jones said he appreciates the calls the police makes to his business but they also make a lot of money off of speeding tickets from their customers. Not that he is defending them because they shouldn’t be speeding, but that brings income back to the Police Department.
Mr. Johns said we’re looking at the River and the natural resources that Westfall has and it seems to be the direction that the Township is going that they think there is a pot of gold out there. Supervisor Flansburg said this is the first step that the Township is taking to offset the prices that our taxpayers are paying. Chairman Ewbank said we would like to not have to go to court and ask for one or two mill increase over the 14 Mills. Mr. Johns said he would sooner donate something to the Township rather than hire an accountant. Supervisor Flansburg said we are not asking for that, but we are open to suggestions.
Rick Lander said he did not know about the meeting either and apologized for not attending further stating that he was waiting for a phone call and a date. Mr. Lander questioned if the Boy Scout groups and the church groups pay the tax also stating it will cost more to administer than the tax will generate. Mr. Lander said he would rather work out an agreement where they pay a certain amount than to have the 1% tax. Solicitor Bernathy suggested scheduling the meeting stating that the business owners seem to be making an offer in lieu of the imposition of the tax.
Supervisor Melvin said the board is not looking to get into the books of the business owners and this is not a punitive action. Vice-Chairman Fischer said we are looking to get this money off the shoulders of our property owners and spread out this tax. Otherwise either taxes are going up or the Earned Income Tax is going to be proposed.
Discussion followed about the amount of tax revenue that the amusement tax would generate and about the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River stating that the Township went to the wrong department to get their numbers. Supervisor Flansburg commented that the Township went where we were told to go.
Meeting was scheduled for 7:30 PM on Monday, November 19, 2012 to have discussions with the business owner regarding the amusement tax.
Mr. Barth questioned if this tax could be imposed solely on recreation that launch or stop in Westfall Township. Solicitor Bernathy answered that it is where the admission is charged.
Supervisor Banach questioned Scott Myer on the percentage of a two mill tax decrease. Mr. Myer said that would equal 6%.
Suparmanto questioned why those in the entertainment business are being affected by the tax. Commenting that these businesses bring people to the Township that spend money at other businesses such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Shoprite and the gas stations. Chairman Ewbank said that the Township does not get any money from these people such as the 3% room tax that we do not get a part of. Supervisor Melvin said that we are maxed out and we are trying to cut our budget and find ways to generate more revenue. Supervisor Banach that we’re looking at every avenue including the County to try to get a sales tax imposed, however we have not been able to do that yet. Supervisor Banach also commented on the duplication of services that we have such as the police at that school district. Discussion followed. Supervisor Melvin thanked Suparmanto for hosting all of the charitable events that they have.
Mr. Jones said people that come to support his business also spend money in other areas and the transient out-of-towners are not attending the schools. Mr. Jones also said a lot of the money he takes in he spends locally for electricians, body shops, tires, etc. saying that when they bring in one dollar to their business it translates to five dollars spent in the area. Supervisor Flansburg said you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution and the Supervisors would rather the business owners become part of the solution. Chairman Ewbank said we used to pave our roads every 10 years and we are so far behind that schedule now due to budget constraints, mentioning the possibility of imposing an Earned Income Tax in the future.
Beth Brelje said the supervisors on more than one occasion said this amusement tax is the first step that they are taking questioning if the supervisors are going to raise this one percent tax or do something else.
Discussion followed. Supervisor Melvin said we want to be partners with the business owners. Mr. Jones explained the things he does to give back to the community such as letting the fire department use his landing for rescues and the river cleanup that he does each year.
Supervisor Flansburg said he believes the business owners have it wrong because every chance he gets he asks people that come to the area if they were asked to pay $.50 for EMA and they drove here from New York City would they not come here because of the $.50 and every one of those people said they would agree to pay it. The business owners suggested making it optional. Chairman Ewbank suggested closing public hearing at this point and getting on to the regular meetings since we have already scheduled a time to meet with the business owners.
Public hearing closed at 8:10 pm.
Lisa A. Green, Secretary