South Hill approves cigarette tax, personal property increase

After taking into consideration the public’s concerns with the proposed changes to the original budget at Tuesday’s public hearing, the South Hill Town Council approved the $0.15 cigarette tax and an increase to the personal property tax rate.
The new proposed budget will include a tax of $0.15 per pack of cigarettes, which is half the originally proposed tax of $0.30 per pack, which will be used mainly to fund enhanced law enforcement retirement benefits.
In addition to the cigarette tax the proposed budget now includes a tax increase on the personal property rate from $1.05 per $100 property valuation to $1.50 per $100.
Before moving to approve the proposed changes to the original budget the public was given one last chance to share its thoughts on both the cigarette tax and the increase on the personal property tax rate.
In regard to the increase in the personal property tax rate Tyler Howerton, resident of South Hill, said the council needs to take into account the median household income. Howerton said South Hill is in the lowest 26th percentile for household median income.
“I personally feel that a 43 percent increase in personal property tax is too much to bear for many of our residents” Howerton said.
Also speaking in opposition to the personal property tax increase was South Hill resident Bain Cameron. Cameron said the council should take a look at its choice of a voluntary tax (cigarette tax) versus a tax that people have no choice in (personal property tax).
Local business and land owner Willie Bob Smith said, “I feel like we are fighting a losing battle here.” Smith has been opposed to the cigarette tax since it was first proposed, and he voiced his opinion that the tax would drive customers outside town limits multiple times about the tax to the council. On Tuesday he urged the council one last time to reconsider before making a motion.
Smith and employee for Parker Oil, Jeff Edmonds, agreed that gas, beer and cigarettes are the three items that convenience stores thrive on and need to be competitive with prices on. Edmonds asked the council to consider instead of raising taxes, take a look at its budget as a “wish list” and try to find at least one item on that “wish list” that the town could do without for the upcoming fiscal year.
Hermie Sadler and Justin Smith, who both own businesses in South Hill, both shared their concerns that the cigarette tax would be detrimental to local businesses.
On the other hand, Cameron was in favor of the originally proposed $0.30 per pack cigarette tax and said he did not think an increase of $0.30 per pack was going to deter people from purchasing cigarettes at local establishments. Cameron explained that he is not a smoker, but if he were he would not spend the gas money to go to a neighboring town to save $0.30 on a pack of cigarettes.
Local business owner Emmett Williams agreed with Cameron in that the originally proposed cigarette tax would not stop people from purchasing cigarettes in town. Williams said, “I don’t see it putting people out of business.”
Williams compared the cigarette tax to the increase in meals and lodging taxes he has dealt with in the past years, and he said those increases did not drive business away.
With the new cigarette tax and the increase on personal property tax rate approved, the council will vote on the revised budget proposal at its regularly scheduled June meeting that will be held on June 12 at 7 p.m.