Beach Stand Operators Again Question Amusement Tax

OCEAN CITY – Beach equipment rental franchise owners are asking Ocean City for an exemption on a required 3-percent admissions and amusement tax.
Ron Steen of Steen’s Beach Service, which operates beach equipment concessions in both Bethany Beach and Ocean City, approached the Mayor and City Council on Monday evening asking for clarification over a required 3-percent admissions and amusement tax of beach stand operators.
According to Steen, he had last asked for clarification over the 3-percent tax in December of 2012, which was the last time bidding took place on the franchises. At that time, there was discussion of whether beach stands were considered an amusement, and the city said it would contact the State of Maryland Comptroller’s Office and get back to him. Steen said he never received a response from the town.
In the meantime, Steen discussed the matter with other beach stand operators and found out some have paid the 3-percent tax and others have not.
Steen wrote a letter to the Comptroller’s Office in June also asking for a clarification over the amusement tax. The response said a beach stand operator is liable for the tax and will not be receiving a refund. One week later, he received a refund check from the state for 2010, followed by refund checks up through June 2013.
“I thought Christmas had come early because last summer wasn’t that great of a summer … then I thought I better not spend this because the Comptroller said ‘no’, so I bet you the right hand and the left hand don’t know what they’re talking about,” Steen said. “Then last week the Grinch came and said ‘give us our money back we made a mistake’.”
As beach stand equipment franchise bids are approaching in December, Steen asked for the town to look into the 3-percent admissions and amusement tax again this week.
“The council gets 100 percent of the bid and then we’re taxed 9 percent at this point, 6 percent sales tax and 3-percent amusement tax, and I think that is pretty heavy,” Steen said. “So, we just need clarification and I hope you will consider exempting us.”
Council President Lloyd Martin responded the town is looking into the matter and officials are in discussions with the Comptroller’s Office.
“We are working with the Comptroller’s Office to make sure we are doing it properly according to state code, and we will be getting an official letter out to everybody on how we are going to handle it after meeting with the city solicitor and the Comptroller’s Office,” Martin said.
Beach equipment franchise holder Will Edmunds also came before the council stating he also had received a refund for the 3-percent tax, which was later reversed by the Comptroller’s Office.
“When we bid, we are required to sign a piece of paper where the Mayor and Council can look into our credit history and our personal background, and we have to submit to Kelly [Allmond, City Clerk] a credit report,” he said. “Can we include in there if the operator is current with their amusement tax, and a new operator has shown that they have applied and gotten an account for admissions and amusement?”
Beach equipment franchise owner Patti Murrell agreed with Steen and Edmunds and also asked for franchise owners to be required to submit proof of being up to date with their taxes.
“Most importantly these bids are coming up in two to three weeks and I am hoping we can include that information on either the bid form or contract that everyone is up to date on these taxes and hopefully in the future we will get together and try to resolve this issue with the 3 percent,” she said.