Auburn to consider adopting first B&O tax

Among Auburn’s business community, B&O is the buzz.

That is, the city of Auburn’s proposal to enact a Business and Occupation tax starting in 2022. The proposal could land in the lap of the Auburn City Council for a vote in the first quarter of 2021.

The idea first surfaced at a city council meeting in February 2019 as one way to address a pending budget shortfall that by 2024 could put the city millions of dollars in the red.

On its website, the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce has announced its intent to host a series of forums to help business leaders talk to each other about the proposed tax.

Its message to attendees: come prepared with business sector tax impacts, concerns and additional comments, and invite others from their business sectors to attend.

“We want to make sure that your voice as a business owner is heard, and we are hopeful that these forums will give you that chance,” the chamber notes on its website.

Auburn is the last business community in the area that is not paying some form of city B&O tax. The chamber has invited Auburn City Council members and the city’s finance department to attend.

“Passing any new tax is a difficult decision,” Mayor Nancy Backus said Tuesday afternoon. “The intent of council is never to hurt our small business community, but it is our duty, by law, to create a balanced budget with the increased costs we, and all full-service cities, are seeing across the board.

“We cannot get there by cuts alone or by placing the burden entirely on our residents. The difficulty is finding the right balance between costs that impact families and businesses, and the council believes that this option provides the best way forward for us all,” Backus said.

City officials know they can’t ignore the problem. The B&O proposal was perhaps the least indigestible among several options on the table at that study session in 2019, among them:

■ Lifting the levy lid one time, or long term by council action alone;

■ Impose by council action alone, again without a public vote, the city’s first ever business and occupation tax; or put a tax proposition to Auburn residents, or raise utility rates.