, 2015

County to study boat tax rates

by Audrey Thomasson

LANCASTER—Marina owners and boating enthusiasts who complained recently about Lancaster County’s high taxes on boats will have to hang on a little longer to see if their protests will pay off.

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While supervisors voted last week to maintain all the existing tax rates on personal property, including a $1.52 rate on boats, they included a stipulation to appoint a committee to review the financial consequences of lowering or eliminating the rate on this year’s taxes, which are due December 5.

Pressure from boaters came at the June 19 public hearing, when some 50 people turned out to complain that the county’s higher rates are hurting the economy because boat owners are moving their vessels to counties offering lower or no boat tax. The result in Lancaster, they said, is half-empty marinas, loss of maintenance and repair jobs, and a hit to local shops, restaurants and lodging.

At the June 26 board meeting, Commissioner of the Revenue Sonny Thomas said it appears Lancaster’s boat tax is somewhat higher than surrounding counties, although he noted it is difficult to compare because each county uses different criteria for calculating tax, especially Northumberland.

For example, he showed figures on a 19-foot Boston Whaler with an original cost of $28,174. The tax assessment in Lancaster is $167.20; Middlesex, $125.44; and Northumberland, $273.78.

A 30-foot Mainship Trawler, with an original price of $158,667, is taxed in Lancaster at $1,181.04; Middlesex, $855.92; and Northumberland, $681.12.

At a higher end of the price scale, a 37-foot 10-inch Island Packet, with an original price of $435,700, is taxed in Lancaster at $4,164.80; Middlesex; $3,033.10; and Northumberland, $2,267.28.

Thomas suggested the county not try to compete with Hampton Roads counties, but to keep the rate competitive with neighboring counties. Also, should the county decide to amend the rate, he noted they should do so by August 1 in order to give staff time to calculate the tax for this year’s billing.

“We need to set benchmarks and a time frame to see what would happen” if we changed or eliminated the rate, said District 1 supervisor Butch Jenkins. “I’d like to see a committee of board members and three constituents established...to set goals and see if we are meeting those goals.

District 4 supervisor William Lee noted the board hadn’t had enough time to fully explore the consequences of a tax break. “We’ve been looking at this only for the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“I’d like to talk to other localities,” said District 5 supervisor and board chairman Wally Beauchamp.

There are approximately 4,449 boats registered in Lancaster County.

A date was not set for the committee meeting.

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