Rockbridge Looking At 30-Cent Cigarette Tax

Cities Also Considering New Tax

A proposal to impose a 30-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes is to be considered by the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors next month.

The supervisors on Monday directed County Attorney Vickie Huffman to prepare an ordinance that would establish the tax. The proposed ordinance will be presented at the supervisors’ Feb. 9 meeting, at which time they will decide whether to proceed with setting a date for a public hearing.

County Administrator Spencer Suter recommended the 30-cents-a-pack rate, saying it’s consistent with the rates of other neighboring jurisdictions. He said the city managers in Buena Vista and Lexington have told him they are planning to recommend that their city councils establish cigarette taxes at this rate.

The General Assembly last year passed legislation giving Virginia’s counties authority to establish a cigarette tax of up to 40 cents a pack, beginning July 1, 2021. Cities already have this authority, though neither Buena Vista nor Lexington presently has such a tax.

While emphasizing the inexact nature of his projections, Suter estimated a 30-cents-a-pack cigarette tax would generate $300,000 annually for the county. He based this estimate on what an identical rate in five selected cities is generating, and applying the ratio to the county’s population.

“The majority [of jurisdictions] are implementing it when they can,” Supervisor Jay Lewis pointed out. “The commonwealth is saying, ‘This is where you can get money.’ We don’t want to further burden [property owners by raising the real estate tax]. I think we should pursue a 30-cent rate.”

Supervisor David McDaniel advised Suter to continue monitoring what neighboring jurisdictions are planning to do. “We don’t want to somehow hurt our businesses,” he said. Supervisor Leslie Ayers suggesting “timing it out with other localities” so the county, Buena Vista and Lexington each establish the tax simultaneously.

Suter said it would likely take about six months to implement the tax from the date it’s adopted. This would allow for time to procure a method for stamping payment meter impressions on packs to show the tax has been collected, and for distributors and vendors to make preparations.

County Commissioner of Revenue David Whitesell, who was present for Monday’s meeting, has said his office can take on the task of administering the stamping of cigarette packs. He doesn’t anticipate needing to hire additional staff to do this.

Under the foreseen timetable, the tax, if it’s approved, likely wouldn’t take effect until a month or so after the July 1 date when the state allows it.

The News-Gazette

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