Irwin postpones amusement tax, will work with Lamp Theatre officials on issue
Irwin debates amusement tax
After a heated discussion that at times turned into a shouting match, Irwin officials this week decided to table a controversial proposed amusement tax that would slap a 5 percent charge on tickets sold at entertainment venues such as The Lamp Theatre.
Instead of potentially voting on the tax at its Feb. 13 meeting, council will first form a working group to meet with representatives of The Lamp concerning the issue. No action was taken on the tax in January, and the matter had been off the agenda since October.
Council President Rick Burdelski said Tuesday at a workshop meeting he never agreed to and would not support a 5 percent levy on tickets or entry fees. The proposed ordinance would exempt organizations that have nonprofit charitable status.
“There are a lot of issues that have to be worked out,” Burdelski said.
He pointed to confusion over the criteria determining which entities are subject to an amusement tax, including wording that indicates charitable organizations must “relieve the government of a burden” to be exempt from the tax.
“I’m not going to vote for something I can’t understand,” he said.
Mike Caralli, a Lamp Theatre board member on the venue’s programming and oversight committee, asked council to take “baby steps” in implementing any tax.
“We have to fight back here. Five percent’s ridiculous. We’d rather see a flat fee,” possibly starting at 50 cents a ticket, Caralli said.
If the 5 percent tax had been implemented in 2018, the estimated $572,000 the Lamp received from ticket sales would have generated about $28,600 in tax revenue.
The Lamp attracted almost 30,000 patrons last year, Caralli said. That would have generated about $15,000 for the borough if a levy of 50 cents per ticket had been in place.
“That means we would pay more taxes than anyone in this borough,” Caralli said.
Council last year discussed changing the amusement tax levy to a flat $1 fee on tickets.
Mayor William Hawley maintained that the proposed tax would not hurt attendance at events and that The Lamp should “pay the piper a little bit.”
“We as a borough have a lot of sweat equity in that building,” Hawley said. “I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Caralli replied that The Lamp can’t afford the 5 percent tax.
“You guys are trying to compare us — a 350-seat venue — to Pittsburgh. We’re not having Lady Gaga here,” Caralli said.
The Lamp has two full-time managers who are “underpaid” and one part-time employee, Caralli said. It relies on a group of volunteers to operate.
“We just have to make money to stay alive,” Caralli said.
With the success of The Lamp helping neighboring businesses, other communities, such as Greensburg, want to duplicate the model of downtown Irwin, said Terri Yurcisin, Lamp board vice president.
“This is something everyone would want in their municipality,” said Yurcisin, whose parents, George and Catherine Rebich, once owned The Lamp.
“I want to create a little Lawrenceville here … where people can walk the streets” and patronize businesses, Caralli said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, email@example.com or via Twitter .