County releases proposed admissions tax ordinance

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Admissions tax ordinance

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A proposed ordinance on a 5 percent admissions tax was released Friday by the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.

The ordinance will be the subject of a public hearing, 10 a.m. Sept. 20 at the Clark County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

The tax would add 5 percent to the cost of admission to: movie theaters, the Sleep Country Amphitheater, the Clark County Fair and a proposed stadium at Clark College.

Tax revenues would fund 40 percent of the proposed $22.7 million stadium.

The county has been working to bring the Class A Yakima Bears to Vancouver.

The owners of the Bears, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, would pay 30 percent of capital costs and pay for ongoing maintenance and operations.

Clark College has agreed to lease the land and provide parking for free in exchange for using the stadium. The public would also be able to use the stadium.

A key part of the ordinance is the “effective date.”

The Bears will play the 2012 season in Yakima, but would like to open the 2013 season in Vancouver.

A lot needs to happen, however, beyond approval of a tax.

Even if Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt approve the tax — Commissioner Tom Mielke has said he will not support it — the tax will not take effect “prior to the County having entered into contracts for the development and operation of a multi-purpose stadium that will accommodate public and college events and professional baseball events.” That means a 30 percent funding gap needs to be filled; so far no private investors have stepped forward.

The other key piece of the financing puzzle will be the Vancouver City Council, which will have to sign an interlocal agreement with the county concerning the admissions tax. The council will have to agree that, for the life of the stadium debt, it will pay a portion of the debt even if a future city council decides to enact a citywide admissions tax for some other purpose.

Currently, no cities in the county have an admissions tax.

If a city adopts a tax, it trumps a county tax and the city can decide what to do with the proceeds.

Several members of the city council have expressed reservations about the tax. The council will likely have a workshop on the proposal if commissioners approve the tax.

Commissioner Steve Stuart made the 40-30-30 proposal last month after commissioners rejected the team’s offer of a 70-30 public-private split.

Stuart said single-screen movie theaters, such as Kiggins Theater in downtown Vancouver, would not be subject to the tax.

The ordinance makes no distinction between older single-screen theaters and multi-screen theaters, but Bronson Potter, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney, pointed to a line in the ordinance that would give older theaters an out: “Whereas, exempting places listed on the Clark County Cultural Resources Inventory from the tax imposed by this ordinance will further the public’s interest in the preservation, restoration, protection and continued use of resources and structures having historic or cultural significance.”