Clearly state Altoona’s tax ordinance

Altoona City Council’s current exercise aimed at amending the city’s ordinance covering collection of the business privilege tax is necessary as well as instructive, not only for other Blair County communities but also places beyond.

The crux of this Altoona tax situation is this:

The city wants to add clarification to the current ordinance that the tax in question applies only to revenues tied to companies’ local operations, not revenues that are earned or collected for business conducted elsewhere.

The Altoona ordinance is reminiscent of a time when it was not necessary to dot every “i” and cross every “t” — that there would be an understanding of what was intended by an ordinance or rule, even if, in some instances, it didn’t specifically say so.

Not so in 2021.

Dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” is mandatory — and not doing so could come back to haunt you.

As an article in Tuesday’s Mirror reported, Altoona’s city solicitor Tom Finn’s task will be to make the wording in the ordinance clear, without even the tiniest crack of uncertainty, that the business privilege ordinance and tax are geared only to revenues with a “nexus” to Altoona.

Other “outside” revenues that a company might earn are absolutely exempt.

It is the correct opinion of city officials that the current ordinance language is ambiguous enough that it might have deterred some entities from locating in the city, because of perceived tax implications.

However, officials would be naive to think that the ordinance is the only culprit steering some potential companies elsewhere.

In Altoona’s case, the city’s compactness is another factor, as well as how the city has changed since railroad operations occupied a big area of land adjacent to the downtown — much of that land now entrenched with other uses, including medical facilities.

Then there is the matter of ingress and egress regarding the city’s various sectors and how existing entities would mesh with new ones.

Another reason some companies might choose a location elsewhere, even if they understand Altoona’s tax rules, might be the availability of structures rather than having to build new.

The city of Johnstown, like Altoona, had a robust industrial past that gave way to major changes over the past half-century. Like Altoona, Johnstown officials need to pay close attention to what might or might not be working to the municipality’s advantage, including tax provisions.

The same scenario exists for the many smaller communities that make up the six counties of the Southern Alleghenies region.

They too must adjust to changes that have evolved.

A periodic review of ordinances on the books makes sense to ensure that they are up to date in what they stipulate — even whether they still are needed.

Meanwhile, a reading of the ordinance books might point glaringly to issues that need to be addressed. For example, open burning was not an issue years ago, but it is a concern in many places now.

Altoona is on the right page regarding its ordinance, but it also would be helpful to the city to reach out to entities that chose another place, to inquire about the reasons why they did so.


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