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Theaters not amused by idea of amusement taxes, like the one being considered in Irwin | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Theaters not amused by idea of amusement taxes, like the one being considered in Irwin

Tribune-Review
| Friday, September 21, 2018 12:24 p.m
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Lamp Theatre volunteer Bruce Parfitt of North Huntingdon prints tickets for Darryl Askew, (right), of Swissvale, before the show “A Diva Evening” at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Tickets wait at will-call at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin before the show “A Diva Evening” on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The entrance to the Lamp Theatre on Main Street in Irwin before the show “A Diva Evening” on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.The entrance to the Lamp Theatre on Main Street in Irwin before the show “A Diva Evening” on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.

Adding a tax on a community theater, such as the proposed dollar-per-ticket amusement levy being considered in Irwin, does not make much sense and could pose a threat to their survival, theater operators across the region said.

“It’s a slippery slope to start down,” said Michael Langer, president of the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, which operates Greensburg’s Palace Theatre. “The live theater industry is both very competitive and very price sensitive.”

Rising costs — from utilities to supplies and materials to entertainers and employees wanting more money — make it more difficult for venues “to remain competitive for the discretionary entertainment dollars,” Langer added.

An amusement tax is added to ticket prices for some forms of entertainment, such as concerts, plays and sporting events.

Pittsburgh has charged a 5 percent tax since at least the 1990s. Last year, the city expected to collect around $18 million from the fee.

Irwin council members have delayed advertising the controversial ordinance, which would place a fee on all tickets sold for entertainment events at the Lamp Theatre and other venues. Council initially discussed placing a 5 percent tax on the value of a ticket, then moved to a fee of $1 per ticket. A final decision has not been made.

Under the proposed ordinance, shows sponsored by a nonprofit charitable organization, like a school or church, would be exempt.

As part of the ordinance to be drafted, Valerie Morton, borough manager, must estimate the amount of revenue such a tax would generate. Solicitor Zachary Kansler said he would not finalize a draft of the ordinance until council decides on what tax it wants.

Any amusement tax levied on the Lamp would be a “pass-through” paid by customers, not the theater, Councilwoman Debbie Kelly said.

But, Terri Yuricisin, vice president of the Lamp Theatre board, which oversees operations, said it “doesn’t necessarily mean we will tack it on” to patrons’ tickets.

“We want to be competitive with the other theaters in the area” in booking acts, said Yurcisin, a retired deputy director of planning and development for the county.

“I’m thinking it is early for this,” Yurcisin said, noting the Lamp just reopened three years ago.

In defending the proposal , Kelly said the borough owns the building and is responsible for capital improvements.

Councilwoman Gail Macioce said Irwin has only about 1,500 taxpayers and the cost to maintain services used by Lamp patrons, like parking lots, police and fire protection, should not be solely the responsibility of the borough.

Irwin officials should consider what the theater does for “the town … the people … the business,” said Tyler Hanford, manager of Scottdale’s Geyer Performing Arts Center — which opened in 1901 as a vaudeville stop and later played movies. It has been operated by the nonprofit Scottdale Showtime Entertainment Inc. since 1988.

“Is it worth the small amount of money (received) from that tax?” Hanford asked.

For the State Theatre, a 1,400-seat venue in downtown Uniontown, any amusement tax — even $1 per ticket — would be a burden.

“It’s hard enough to get people to come to live theatre … to see a live performance at a small venue” compared to ones in Pittsburgh, said Erica Miller, State Theatre executive director.

Although Pittsburgh theaters charge a ticket tax, “in a smaller town, that tax seems more personal,” Miller said.

“This has a chance to start a pattern (among communities) that ultimately could hurt the viability of a small theater like The Lamp,” Langer said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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