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Park City tanning salons scared of 10 percent tax hike

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

As the U.S. Senate scrambled to pass a health-care reform bill before the Christmas break, a proposed five-percent tax on elective cosmetic surgeries was replaced with a 10-percent tax on indoor UV tanning salons.

Local tanning businesses say the move was unfair, but they feel powerless to fight its inclusion in a final health care bill once the House and Senate come to a compromise.

"They have to make up the money someplace and will be going after everything they can," said Lorri Sargeant, owner of Main Street Video and Tanning in Kamas. "What can you do? It is what it is."

Sargeant said she didn’t have any idea how it would affect her business. If turned into law, she said she’ll just tack it onto the other taxes she pays.

"If people want to tan, they’re going to do it; taxes won’t stand in the way," she added.

To put it in perspective, Sargeant’s tanning packages run between $25 and $75. A 10 percent tax on those amounts isn’t catastrophic to businesses or consumers, she said.

What makes the proposal so unfair, she said, is that many things are harmful when not consumed in moderation. People who abuse tanning beds also abuse sun tanning during the summer. Doing anything in excess can be dangerous.

Advocates of the tax say the money is needed to offset rising cases of skin cancer. Sargeant said she’d be happy to pay the tax if there was a guarantee the money went toward the prevention and cure of cancer. But she doesn’t have faith that is where the money will go.

Lorrie Niessen, owner of 7Sundaze Salon, said she saw this coming for the past several months. The professional associations for dermatologists have made UV tanning a target of their public service campaigns for years.

One ad campaign in particular even ran regularly in The Park Record, she said. The 10-percent tax came as a surprise to some, but Niessen said it’s actually the culmination of years of powerful lobbying.

Earlier this year, Niessen purchased the failed Sahara Sun Tanning at Quarry Village in addition to her shop on Bonanza Drive. But Dec. 1 she closed the Bonanza location and expanded the second salon in order to simplify her operation and diversify her offerings.

She plans to emphasize her air-brushing services to a greater extent.

"I had a feeling they were going to win after slamming us for years. Luckily I did what I did because my thoughts are right," she said.

She interprets the proposed tax as being indicative of bigger government and more "Big Brother"-type legislation typical of the new congress.

"It stinks. It’s not fair and it’s going to put people out of work," she said.

Like Sargeant, Niessen said the salons are not to blame for skin cancer.

"It’s B.S.," she said. "If I end up with cancer, its because I baked on the beach since I was 18 years old."

If the tax is passed into law, she said she plans to absorb the extra cost. Her prices have been fixed for the past three years and she wants to keep them that way.

She anticipates the tax shutting many salons down. A 10-percent increase on a single purchase may not seem like a big deal, but for a business like hers that feel the need to absorb it, that’s $100,000 off the top of a $1 million year, she said.

Agnes Tucker said the salon she runs with her husband Dan in Heber will definitely close if the tax becomes law.

Owners of Tan & Tone on Heber’s Main Street, Tucker said she’s tanned year round for 26 years. She believes the exercise is healthy because it boosts Vitamin D levels, fights seasonal or low light-induced depression and reduces the risk of natural burning.

"Tanning salons don’t have the money to push like the doctors with cosmetic surgery," she said. "Democrats are going to get some kind of unfair tax no matter what; it’s what they want. Every time they open their mouths its an unfair, partial tax."

The Tuckers would not be able to absorb the additional tax because business has been slower in recent years. She said they’ve tried to keep prices competitive but have had a hard time weathering the recession.

"A 10 percent tax is more than people would go for, so we’ll probably just close it," she said. "Think about it, that’s a lot for a tan."

She’s seen customers paying with change more often this year than ever before in her 20 years in Heber. People want to tan, but are fighting tight budgets, she said.

The irony is that if she and other salons close, the government won’t get the additional revenue anyway, Tucker said. She likened it to high tobacco taxes that result in consumers driving across state lines to purchase cigarettes.

"This is not a time to raise taxes anywhere," she added.

Other salons can rely on additional services to stay open. Rockwater Salon in Heber also cuts hair. The Kamas salon is also a video store. Niessen said she’d push alternative methods to tanning. But Tucker said businesses like hers wouldn’t make it.


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