Osage County commissioners wrestled again Monday with the questions of whether and how much to tax establishments located outside of municipalities that sell alcoholic beverages. When the dust cleared, they tabled the issue once again and asked for more details.
County Treasurer Sally Hulse provided the commissioners with names of establishments that have been provided to her, but some members of the Board of Commissioners said they could think of additional businesses that were not listed.
In question is whether the county board should vote to impose what is being called an “occupational tax” on bars and restaurants under the terms of the state’s new alcohol sale regulations. The county has been told by the state that it can levy a tax up to the amount that the state charges for licensure for beer, wine and hard liquor sales.
The three commissioners voiced basically the same concerns Monday that they did in a discussion of the tax two weeks ago.
District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay raised the issue of costs the county incurs when it has to pay law enforcement to respond to alcohol-related behavior.
“We’re going to need plenty of law enforcement when all this comes to fruition,” Paslay said Monday. He suggested that businesses could be asked to look at two years of income and see what they would need to add to the cost of their products to cover a county tax.
District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney said he wanted to be as fair as possible to affected businesses, regardless of what the county ended up charging.
District 1 Commissioner Jerry Howerton called to attention the potential financial impact on small businesses that may sell beer, but also sell food and bait and any number of other things, and that serve as community centers of a sort in rural areas.
Hulse talked Monday about several establishments in unincorporated areas that have already been paying $900 per year to the county. That assessment is still in place and is separate from the proposed taxation that the commissioners are discussing, Hulse told the Journal-Capital.
McKinney initially said Monday that he just wanted all the facts in front of him so he could make an even-handed decision.
“I just want the numbers,” he said, explaining he didn’t want someone to end up paying the county $2,500 to sell beer, wine and hard liquior when some business inside a municipality might be paying as little as $50. “I don’t mind charging them, but I want to be fair about it.”
McKinney also clarified, for the benefit of people in the audience Monday, that this is the first time the current county commissioners have had to grapple with the details of this issue.
“This is not old business for us,” he said. And McKinney replied to Paslay’s concern about law enforcement expenses by noting where he thinks any trouble will come from.
“To me, the whiskey is going to cause the trouble,” he said.
McKinney, who is from Fairfax, cautioned that levying too heavy a tax on Osage County bars and restaurants could just motivate people to cross the river into Pawnee County.
“You could coast down the hill and right up the hill to the VFW in Ralston,” he said.
McKinney eventually proposed charging a total of $900 in annual tax for establishments in unincorporated areas that sell beer, wine and hard liquor ($500 for beer, $200 for wine and $200 for spirits), but he eventually withdrew his motion and moved to table the question one more time.