Burlington hopes to phase out tax to attract business

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) It's no secret it can be expensive to live and shop in Burlington. But there's an extra cost you may not even realize you're paying. Every time you shop at a store in Burlington, a business tax is being passed on to you. Business owners say they have to raise prices to pay the antiquated tax. But as our Neliana Ferraro learned, the Burlington City Council hopes the tax won't be around for much longer.

"I mean, the list of taxes is as long as your arm," said Mark Bouchett of Homeport in Burlington.

Business owners in Burlington are weighed down by a lot of taxes and fees. Homeport on Church Street, for example, has to pay an additional 1 percent sales tax, a meals and rooms tax, a Church Street Marketplace fee.

"The reason why we complain about them is not because we don't want to pay them; we don't pay them. Our customers pay them," Bouchett said.

That sometimes means upping prices for you.

All businesses also have to pay the business personal property tax. Owners have to tally their assets-- that's computers, counters, signs, display cases, dumpsters, heavy equipment and even things as small as calculators.

"It's a tax that's difficult for businesses to comply with and we get huge complaints from our business community about this," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

The Burlington City Council hopes to phase out this business personal property tax between now and 2026.

"Across Vermont and across the country, you have seen municipalities move away from this particular tax," Weinberger said.

The tax can sometimes discourage businesses from coming to the Queen City and staying competitive.

"My son just closed a business down the street for just these types of reasons," Bouchett said.

He had to make a tough choice to close Juice Box in Burlington and keep the one in Berlin.

Bouchett says jumping to another city is always an option for Homeport, too.

"It's always on the table," he said. "It's on the table for us every day."

Many communities don't collect this tax anymore. There are only 30 towns in Vermont that still have it in place. In Chittenden County, only Winooski and Burlington make businesses pay the tax.

There will be public hearings over the next few weeks where you will be able to give city leaders feedback on the proposal. They'll make adjustments and bring the final plan up for a vote on Town Meeting Day.