Recreation tax dies in Senate

 

The Recorder


Recorder Staff

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

CHARLEMONT — A plan to raise a first-in-the-state 3-percent recreation tax on outdoor activities like skiing, rafting and zip lines has died in the state Senate.

Town voters, supported by local outdoor recreation companies, had sought a home-rule law to allow Charlemont to levy the special tax to support its municipal services like police and EMTs, which often are needed by visitors at recreational venues like Berkshire East or Zoar Outdoor.

While the measure passed in the House of Representatives, it failed to advance in the Senate before the legislative session closed Tuesday, sending the town back to first base if it wants to file this again or push similar legislation in the new session that began Wednesday.

If approved, the recreation tax would have provided “the single largest new source of revenue for the town,” said Beth Bandy, who chairs the Board of Selectmen. “Our property tax base is not expanding, and we need to find new forms of revenue.”

Town officials have said they don’t know exactly how much new revenue a recreation tax would bring in because the affected businesses are private, for-profit companies.

Bandy said the selectmen will be meeting next week with state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, “to figure out what needs to be changed, and if we’re going to re-file.”

“On the Senate side, they had issues on how the Department of Revenue would implement the law,” Mark said. “We passed it in the House, but it died in the (Senate’s) Bills on the Third Reading Committee.”

Mark said he will re-file the bill before the Jan. 20 deadline, after considering any suggestions for clearing up the language. Also, he hopes to get support for it from the region’s new state senator, Adam Hinds

If the bill had been approved by the Senate, Charlemont would have become the first town in Massachusetts to levy such a tax. Vermont is the only New England state to levy a similar local option sales tax, of 1 percent, which is in effect for Killington, Stratton and Middlebury ski areas.

In June, Charlemont’s annual town meeting voters unanimously approved this home-rule proposal, after hearing that the town’s largest outdoor recreation businesses — Berkshire East, Zoar Outdoor and Crab Apple Rafting — were supporting the plan. One reason they supported it is because the additional revenue was to help support the town’s ambulance service, which is suffering from a shortage of volunteers. In a town of 1,200 residents, the outdoor recreation facilities can bring a few thousand more people to town during busy weekends.

On Wednesday, an aide to former state Sen. Benjamin Downing said the bill failed in the Senate because of “questions about whether it was constitutional to levy taxes on such services.”

It’s unclear how such questions would be resolved if the town renews its attempt to get a recreation tax.

Bandy said she doesn’t yet know if residents will have to vote again at annual town meeting to support a revived bill.