Michael Harthorne
From the Wombs of Warriors perform at Ballard's Tractor Tavern in February. A new tax exemption passed May 26 seeks to offer incentives for small venues, such as the Tractor, to host more live music.

Tax exemption aims to help venues, musicians

Starting July 1, small music venues, such as the Sunset Tavern in Ballard and the High Dive in Fremont, will no longer be charged a 5-percent admissions tax by the city.

The Seattle City Council voted 5-3 May 26 to waive the tax for all venues that have a maximum occupancy less than 1,000 people and meet a number of other stipulations.

Tate Rogers, owner of Nectar Lounge in Fremont, said exemptions will help because even though 5 percent doesn't seem like a lot, it adds up for small businesses.

"There are some months where it's a pretty good chunk of change," Rogers said.

The tax provided $300,000 per year to the city's general fund.

Council member Jean Godden, who voted against the exemption along with Richard McIver and Tom Rasmussen, said she supported the idea, but with the city facing budget cuts, now is not the time to repeal any taxes.

"I actually had voted in the affirmative last fall," Godden said. "But, that was $40 million ago."

Council President Richard Conlin said the admittance tax exemption can be looked at like an investment in a project. It will hopefully help to keep musicians employed and create new music venues that will bring the city more tax revenue, he said.

Some venue owners have been critical of the tax exemption, saying it doesn't do enough to help the venues themselves.

When Mayor Greg Nickels announced the exemption in 2008, Tractor Tavern owner Dan Cowan told the Ballard News-Tribune that he welcomed it, but it would mostly help musicians, who often get the money from ticket sales.

Cowan said he would rather the city focus on issues, such as the noise ordinance, that could help small venues, specifically.

Rogers said the tax exemption is not a huge improvement, but it is definitely a step in the right direction for the city, which he said taxes small businesses on everything.

"We look like the bad guy because we are being forced to increase costs and pushing it on to the consumer," he said.

Hopefully, the tax exemption will allow some venues to lower their ticket prices, he said.

As well as meeting the occupancy requirement, venues must offer live music at least three days per week and have at least 16 musicians perform per week to have the admission tax waived.

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