By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton supervisors have taken a major step toward imposing a county cigarette tax at the maximum rate allowed by state law.
Supervisor John Coker made a motion Tuesday night that Northampton supervisors “work on adopting a resolution to implement a cigarette tax ordinance at 40 cents a pack,” which passed in a 4-1 vote, with Chair Betsy Mapp opposed.
The vote was the culmination of a public hearing in which County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski outlined how Northampton would use the revenue generated by the cigarette tax and citizens weighed in.
Since 2005, Virginia cigarettes were taxed at a rate of 30 cents per pack, or $3 per carton, until new legislation was passed that doubled the tax to 60 cents per pack, or $6 per carton, effective July 1, 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Taxation.
Some Virginia cities, towns, and two counties imposed additional taxes on cigarettes, and legislation was passed in 2020 that allowed all Virginia counties to follow suit, effective July 1, 2021.
A county cigarette tax may be no more than 40 cents per pack, limiting the possible total state and county cigarette taxes to $1 per pack.
One Northampton locality, the town of Eastville, already charges a 30-cent-per-pack cigarette tax.
Northampton County would share 25% of its cigarette tax revenues with the four incorporated towns that do not charge a cigarette tax: Exmore, Nassawadox, Cheriton, and Cape Charles.
The money would be distributed to the towns based on population, Kolakowski said.
The majority of the cigarette tax revenue, 50%, would benefit emergency services such as EMS and volunteer fire departments.
These departments need additional financial support to pay for vehicles, equipment, and training. New training requirements have been instituted and fuel and maintenance costs are rising, Kolakowski noted.
The remaining 25% of the cigarette tax revenue would support “community development,” that is, economic development and affordable and workforce housing projects, he said.
The cigarette tax is estimated to generate revenue of about $133,000 per year for Northampton County.
Mapp said that Accomack County supervisors were considering implementing a cigarette tax of just 10 cents per pack, or $1 per carton.
“I believe Accomack’s counting on an incredible number of cartons being sold to people who are crossing the line from Maryland,” Kolakowski said.
If Northampton charges the full 40 cents per pack or $4 per carton, consumers will still be paying far less in cigarette taxes than they would pay in many neighboring states and localities across the Chesapeake Bay, he pointed out.
During the public hearing, Sandra Beerends, of Franktown, suggested using the cigarette tax revenue for an urgent care center.
Elizabeth Wright, of Cape Charles, said raising cigarette taxes will cause people to purchase cigarettes elsewhere, where prices are lower, and will encourage counterfeiting and selling cigarettes on the black market.
Mapp called the decision to move forward with the 40-cents-per-pack cigarette tax a “grave mistake.”
Northampton supervisors also voted 4-1, with Mapp opposed, to join the Chesapeake Bay Cigarette Tax Board.
A special stamp must be applied to every pack of cigarettes sold in a locality that imposes a cigarette tax in addition to the state cigarette tax.
The Chesapeake Bay Cigarette Tax Board will ensure the stamps are applied to packs of cigarettes to be sold in Northampton. An automated process opens each carton, applies the stamps, and reseals each carton, Kolakowski said.
The service will cost 5% of Northampton’s cigarette tax revenues. The tax board can decide to charge more, but Northampton can back out of the deal at any time without penalty.
Kolakowski said he would travel to the Chesapeake Bay Cigarette Tax Board meetings and is optimistic that there may be future opportunities to attend the meetings virtually.