Amusement tax protest draws hearse to Lamp Theatre in Irwin

August 17, 2018
Amusement tax protest draws hearse to Lamp Theatre in Irwin

Mary Uranker of Irwin and Sandy Elder of Grapeville, two protesters against proposed amusement tax stand outside the Lamp Theatre Wednesday.

Ken Karnes of Glassport parked his 1987 hearse in front of the Lamp Theatre in downtown Irwin on Wednesday as his protest against the borough’s proposed amusement tax. The tax would add 5 percent to the cost of tickets to concerts, plays and movies if the entertainment is not sponsored by a nonprofit, charitable group.

“It may not kill the Lamp, but it may well make it more difficult (to survive), ” Karnes said of the proposed tax, which drew the opposition of about a half-dozen theater supporters.

As to why he would drive his hearse into Irwin to make his point, Karnes said, “I guess you have to be extreme to get attention.”

Sandy Elder of Grapeville, whose son, Bill Elder, is the theater’s operations manager, said at the protest that the theater draws people into downtown Irwin, where they spend money at restaurants.

“It brings a lot of people down here,” Elder said of Lamp Theatre customers who patronize area businesses.

The protest by theater supporters was held before Irwin Council met Wednesday.

Council did not vote on the 5 percent amusement tax on ticket sales because additional time was needed to legally advertise the ordinance before a vote can be taken.

The proposed ordinance establishing the tax would exempt events sponsored by nonprofit, charitable organizations such as churches and school groups -- even those held at the renovated Lamp Theatre, council President Rick Burdelski said. The amusement tax has yet to be presented to council for a vote, he noted.

The Lamp, operated by a nonprofit organization, may not be the only business in Irwin charging patrons an entrance fee for entertainment, Burdelski said.

Karen Glass of North Huntingdon, a member of the initial “Relight the Lamp” committee, questioned council on the purpose of an amusement tax. In discussion last month, there was mention that the revenue could be used for maintenance on the building, which is owned by the borough.

“There is a difference between structural maintenance and theater maintenance,” Councilwoman Gail Macioce said.

Glass objected to the borough collecting the 5 percent fee on the price of a ticket, then using the money “to patch a pothole,” rather than plowing it back into the facility.

“No one has said the tax would be used exclusively for the building. If the Lamp wants, they could raise the price of the ticket” to pay for maintenance costs, Glass said.

Irwin has spent “tens of thousands of dollars and “a lot of public works (man) hours,” in renovating the theatre since acquiring it in 2013, Macioce said.

“We should not put all the burden on our 4,200 constituents,” Macioce said.

Councilwoman Leslie Savage said the revenue from the tax would be used for borough operations, including providing police protection.

“Five percent is a small amount for a ticket,” Savage said

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