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When the longevity bonus was eliminated, it was a huge blow to those seniors who were the recipients. It will be very injurious to them, as well as to those of us who never received the longevity bonus, if the senior citizen sales tax exemption benefit is also taken away.
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Most of the senior citizens residing in Juneau are not affluent, as many people seem to believe. Many of them are just managing to make ends meet at a time in their lives when their medical expenses take a greater part of their income. Seniors are on a fixed income. Unfortunately nothing else is, namely the cost of food, clothing and shelter, not to mention the astronomical cost of home heating oil and gasoline. Factor in the increasing cost of both medical care and pharmaceuticals, it becomes a monthly juggling act just to meet these expenses.
Senior citizens perform countless hours of volunteer time that benefits this community. An organization with which I'm affiliated tracks volunteer hours of its members who wish to participate. Over a year, a total of 5,246 hours were volunteered by 26 members through 68 organizations. If you were to attach a dollar value to these hours, at say, $20 an hour, the value would be $104,920. In the period of one year, I personally have contributed 540 hours in service to the community. The 26 seniors who contributed these hours are just a small part of the senior citizens in this community. If you were to have the total number of hours contributed to this community by all its senior citizens, I believe this figure would be astonishing.
If organizations had to hire workers to perform the services that the seniors volunteer, many of these services would not be performed because these organizations, mostly nonprofits, do not have the budget to pay workers to perform these tasks.
Many organizations that perform vital statistics to this community rely on the volunteer services of its senior citizens. The museums and libraries, both city and state, the hospital, Juneau Pioneers' Home, Wildflower Court, Juneau Hospice & Home Care, Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Juneau School District are but a few.
The March 31 edition of the Empire contained a list of delinquent sales taxes totaling $417,811.76. An additional list of businesses failing to comply with their voluntary repayment plan totaled to $197,844.05. These taken together total $615,655.81, well over half a million dollars!
Instead of penalizing senior citizens, who may be considered an easy target, why not aggressively pursue the collection of these delinquent taxes? These businesses, who have not paid the sales tax, collected this money from their customers who, in good faith, paid them sales tax on their purchases. It is unfair to the residents of this community to allow these sales taxes to go uncollected.
I would hope that those making the final decision on this question will consider the contributions that have been made, and are being made, by the senior citizens of this community, and that no change be made to the senior tax exemption.
Sandra L. DeLong is a resident of Juneau. She is a widow and a retired federal employee.