Members of Spokane’s gambling industry laid their cards before the City Council on Monday, once again requesting their taxes be lowered.
For the third week in a row, owners of the city’s rapidly growing gaming industry asked that the tax on card rooms be dropped from 20 percent to 5 percent.
The testimony came during the fourth and final hearing on the city’s proposed 1998 general fund spending plan.
David Montecucco, owner of Silver Lanes, said recent loosening of gambling laws by the state Legislature prompted him to expand his cardroom from five to 10 tables.
In November 1996, he paid taxes on $18,000. This month, his taxable income will top $85,000, Montecucco said. But new expenses - such as security, additional supervision and surveillance - have grown faster than his business, he said.
“We believe that a reduction in the percentage is warranted given the numbers we are generating,” Montecucco said. “This reduction will still allow the city to gain more revenue and allow us to operate profitably and give us a fair return on our investment.”
Robert Saucier, chairman and chief executive of the Mars Hotel and Casino, also urged the council to lower the tax.
“At a 5 percent tax, we have an opportunity to make a profit,” Saucier said. “And we can utilize profits to pay off the taxes my establishment owes to the city of Spokane.”
The Mars casino currently owes the city more than $80,000 in gambling taxes.
Pull-tab owners also joined in the tax reduction parade, asking that their taxes be changed from a 5 percent tax on gross receipts to a 10 percent tax on gross net profits.
Councilwoman Roberta Greene recommended - and her colleagues approved - the gambling tax issue be sent to the finance committee for review.
“On the one hand, we have people who are paying their taxes asking us to please look at this,” she said. “On the other, we have (a business) not paying their taxes presenting an emotional case … It presents to me an interesting little scenario.”
In other budget business, Fire Chief Bobby Williams suggested changes to a proposal to charge nonresidents an extra fee for emergency medical services inside city limits.
Under the original proposal, a nonresident would pay $300 for basic life support services provided at the scene, but only if the person is taken to the hospital. That fee would come on top of the base $238 ambulance ride that all county residents pay.
A $192 fee would be added to the charge if a paramedic rides with the person to the hospital and provides advanced life support.
After talking with fire chiefs and commissioners from neighboring districts, Williams decided to drop the basic life support fee from $300 to $100, bringing the total cost of an ambulance ride to $338 for nonresidents.
A nonresident requiring a paramedic to ride along would pay $458.
In other testimony on the budget, Sandy Smith asked the council to consider making small strides in the city’s street repair problem instead of striving for the big fix.
“We don’t have to fix all the streets at once,” she said. “But couldn’t we find the money in the current budget to fix one or two a year?”