Proposed cigarette tax to be put to public hearing

Published 8:16 pm Thursday, March 18, 2021

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 March 18 to authorize County Attorney Bobby Jones to draft an ordinance imposing a cigarette tax.

Changes to state law enacted in 2020 now allow counties to impose taxes of up to 40 cents per pack, but Isle of Wight’s proposed rate is still undecided — as is whether the board will ultimately decide to adopt any cigarette tax at all.

The county plans to hold a public hearing on the matter at a date that as of March 18 also remains undecided.

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Should the board choose to enact the tax, wholesalers would be required to purchase stamps from the county and affix them to each pack, the cost of which would be passed on to retailers and, ultimately, the consumers who buy them. 

According to Isle of Wight Commissioner of the Revenue Gerald Gwaltney’s proposed timeline for implementation, it would likely be September before smokers would see the resulting per-pack price increases from the tax.

Gwaltney estimates the cost of implementing the tax in-house at roughly half a full-time employee, or $20,000-25,000. The other option, which 19 localities in Northern Virginia currently use, is to form a regional cigarette board. This board would be responsible for hiring an administrator and field inspectors, and then remitting the collected taxes back to member localities. If modeled off Northern Virginia, each participating locality would fund the board on a pro-rata basis based on the number of cigarettes purchased in each locality. Per state law, localities that go this route would need a minimum of six participating localities.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty, who was the sole dissenting vote, said he’d prefer the tax not to exceed the 30 cents per pack the town of Windsor currently charges. Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, however, said he didn’t want to see the county “undercut Windsor” by charging less.

“To me that’s the minimum,” he said.

According to Gwaltney, 40 cents per pack on an estimated 750,000 packs per year would bring the county roughly $300,000 in additional revenue. Thirty cents, according to McCarty, would bring $225,000 and 15 cents, $112,500.

Supervisors Joel Acree and Don Rosie of the Windsor and Carrsville districts both said they’d like more information on how the resulting money would be used.

“I don’t want to be guilty of raising taxes for the sake of raising taxes,” Rosie said.

The supervisors then briefly debated possible uses for the money, from helping to offset the debt payments that will be needed to fund the eventual replacement of Hardy and Westside elementary schools, to helping make the contributions the county makes annually to Isle of Wight Christian Outreach and the Western Tidewater Health District.

“This money is not going to be just accumulating, sitting in a bank,” Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice said.

Even if the county chose to charge the maximum 40 cents allowed, it would still be under the 50 cents Smithfield and Franklin charge, the 75 cents Suffolk charges and the 85 cents Newport News charges.