MOSES LAKE – The Moses Lake City Council approved lowering the card room gambling tax despite budget concerns.
The council voted 4-2 to lower the tax from the current 10 percent to five percent by 2022. The tax will be lowered, beginning in 2018, by one percent over the next five years.
The change came at the request of B.J. Garbe, CEO of Lake Bowl, which operates the only card room in the city.
“The reason that were asking for this proposal is our industry is dying. It really is,” Garbe previously told the council. “With a combination of tribal competition and legislation, we’re in a world of hurt and were hoping for some relief from you guys.”
In 2016, the Lake Bowl card room provided about $232,000 in revenue to the city through the gambling tax. Garbe said on average the tax costs the business about $220,000 annually.
Revenue from the gambling tax goes directly to the Moses Lake Police Department budget, which under the new ordinance, will lose about $23,000 in 2018 and an additional $23,000 each year until the tax rate reaches five percent, according to city records.
From 2022 on, the police budget will see a reduction in revenue in excess of $116,000 annually.
City staff had recommended to the council to consider finding a replacement revenue stream before approving a reduced tax rate.
“Police are in need of funding to support the new K-9 unit that was recently endorsed,” city officials stated. “Funds will also be needed to procure the department’s grant request for additional officers. Passing this ordinance would make funding those programs challenging.”
Councilmembers did not have any answers for how they will make up the lost revenue. Councilmember Ryann Leonard, who voted against the ordinance but added she was not opposed to lowering the tax, said she did not agree with the timing.
“I’m not opposed to looking at this ordinance, I’m not opposed to trying to make this work. What I’m opposed to is the timing of it,” she said. “I think pulling something that makes decisions about our budget without having a plan in place for how we’re going to either replenish those funds or how we’re going try to redistribute that negative to our budgeting, without being in the budget process, I think that goes away from what our goal was over the past year. We have time to make a decision on this. I want to be able to help our businesses and to do what’s fair to our community but I feel we have to balance what’s fair in our goals and our budget, especially for public safety, our top priority that we stated.”
Councilmember Karen Liebrecht, who also voted against the ordinance, voiced similar concerns.
“Our act today doesn’t just cost us $23,000,” She said, speaking of the loss in revenue for 2018. “In the long run, we have to find that money somewhere. I don’t know where it’s going to come from so I can’t vote for it.”
Councilmember Mike Norman voted in favor of the ordinance but also added he’s unsure where the council could make up for lost revenue.
“I have given more consideration to this than a lot of things,” Norman said. “I think we do no great harm moving forward with this particular modification of this ordinance."
Garbe spoke briefly Tuesday night after the council’s vote.
“I know this is a tough one for you guys, a tough one for me too,” Garbe said. “I just want to make this publicly clear that I will do my best to make sure the community and the city comes out ahead for this ordinance change. You have my word that I will do whatever I can to make sure you guys come out ahead with this thing.”