Ontario, OR - The citizens in Ontario could soon see a one-percent sales tax. It all comes down to how folks vote on May 15.
Oregon is well-known for not having a sales tax, especially to Idahoans who live along the border. The discussion over whether that should change has sparked a passionate debate.
The one-percent tax might seem like a small amount, but it is weighing heavy on the minds of many residents in Ontario. The mayor of Ontario, Ron Verini, says the city has stretched its funds as much as it can by doing without. Now, as the city grows, the cutbacks cannot go on any longer, and the tax needs to be passed.
"We have cut back on the amount of streets that we have chip sealed, " said Mayor Verini. "We have eliminated our gang officer. We have eliminated two of our detectives,"
Tom Butler is the president of the Tax Payers Association of Oregon. He is against the sales tax, saying he believes the city's lack of money for maintenance is due to poor planning.
"I think over a period of several years we have been expending more than we have anticipated, receiving revenues, so the city council has come forward and said the only way out of this is a sales tax."
The controversy surrounding the sales tax dates back to September of 2017, when the Ontario city council voted to implement a one-percent sales tax. The citizens of Ontario, at that point, said, "Not so fast."
"The Tax Payers Association of Oregon said you shouldn't pass a new sales tax on the city's residents without letting them vote on it," said Butler. "They did not want a general vote. I can go on record saying that they did not want that because the last time we voted, it went down by 70 percent."
"Well he wants 'no taxation without presentation,' and that's fine, said Mayor Verini. "I have no problem with that. I have no problem with people putting it on the referendum."
The town rallied together and collected over 2,000 signatures, putting the issue on the May ballot. The mayor says, although a sales tax is an unpopular issue with residents, the lack of a sales tax draws Idahoans across the border to buy goods. They come to save money, and he feels a small tax, will help Ontario pay for the services they use.
"All we are asking is for the community to pass a one-percent tax that shares the burden of the expenses of our community over a wider range of people instead of just taxing ourselves, placing the full burden on our community," said Mayor Verini.
Butler says this tax could do more harm than good, especially to businesses that count on out-of-town business.
"Wait a minute. It's only going to reduce the sales of those businesses that are present in Ontario by 3-5 percent," said Butler.
"I personally don't think it will affect businesses that much," said Mayor Verini. "Let's face it. We are talking one penny on the dollar. One penny on the dollar is not going to stop people from shopping in Ontario," said Mayor Verini.
Mayor Verini says, when you look at other towns, this tax it is still relatively cheaper. Whichever way you look at things it will be up to the people of Ontario to make the final decision.