BRATTLEBORO - Brattleboro’s business community is lining up in opposition to a proposed 1-percent local option tax that Town Meeting Representatives will consider at a special town meeting scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 20.
The Board of Directors of Building a Better Brattleboro has voted to oppose the new tax and the board is asking town meeting representatives to consider the impact the tax could have on business in downtown.
Board President Bob Woodworth, owner of Burrows Specialized Sport, said Connecticut River towns are already at a disadvantage when competing for business with neighboring towns.
Woodworth said Brattleboro’s downtown merchants need support, and not one more reason to drive customers to neighboring states
"Some people say 1 percent won’t make a difference, but for towns along the Connecticut River, it just keeps adding on," he said. "When you look at historical retail growth across the Connecticut River you see it makes a difference."
Woodworth says the number of people walking into his store has increased, but the average sale is down as people go to New Hampshire to buy things such as bicycles, snowboards and skis.
And when he gets a customer who wants to buy something at Burrows, but who says it could be purchased for less money in New Hampshire, Woodworth eats the difference, which cuts into his slim profit.
"Seven percent of $1,000 is $70, and people will drive to Keene for that," he said. "The economy is bad and people are watching their money. One percent more makes a difference."
The BaBB board unanimously voted at its last meeting to oppose the new tax.
The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce also is likely to oppose the new tax, chamber Vice President Jeff Morse said.
Board members have been worrying about how a local tax would affect business owners across town, Morse said.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 16, four days before the vote, though Morse said board members will be lobbying town meeting representatives to vote down the tax.
"With the Brooks House fire and Tropical Storm Irene business owners are already facing so much," he said. "A 1-percent tax would exacerbate that and make it much harder to compete. It’s the wrong time to bring this up."
The BaBB board is worried that as everyone is operating with less income, a small change like a 1-percent tax could change people’s shopping patterns, possibly irreversibly.
And the board is afraid the tax could convince business owners who want to open a shop to maybe locate it elsewhere.
BaBB Executive Director Andrea Livermore said that while the Selectboard is arguing that tourists won’t change their shopping habits because of the tax, the town is more reliant on local business, which Livermore said makes up the bulk on sales for downtown businesses.
She also said local merchants are increasingly competing with online companies and a 1-percent increase in big-ticket items would give shoppers one more reason to buy their goods over the Internet.
"We need to let the Town Meeting Reps know that this is not about the police-fire project. We will be educating people in the next few weeks," Livermore said. "Businesses are struggling and how many nails in the coffin do you need before the end?"
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.