An eagle-eyed shopper’s actions has led to changes in the way a name-brand retailer applied a sales tax at one of its local stores.
It all started with a simple balloon purchase.
Marcia Gibbons, a Longbranch resident, visited the Key Peninsula Dollar Tree on Dec. 28. The store opened in Lake Kathryn Village last fall.
Gibbons was there to buy a balloon for her daughter, whose birthday was the following day.
“I wanted one balloon, and the Dollar Tree has the best balloons,” she told The News Tribune in a phone interview Tuesday.
With the single $1 purchase, she noticed she was charged about 2 cents over the state sales tax amount assigned to that store.
“I work from home, so I’m familiar with sales tax here,” Gibbons said, “and particularly for that site. My daughter works next door at the salon, and I helped her set up her tax rate.”
To be sure of her math, Gibbons said she double-checked on the state Department of Revenue’s online tax rate tool.
Turns out, she was correct.
Gibbons said she alerted the store on Dec. 28 and later reached out to the state Attorney General’s Office, who then contacted Dollar Tree.
She posted about the issue on a Key Peninsula community Facebook page at the end of January and noted the store still was overcharging at 8.5 percent. That post received more than 170 comments. She wrote that by then she’d contacted the company multiple times.
“I don’t hate Dollar Tree. I enjoy shopping there, they have some great bargains,” she wrote at the time.
But she wanted to see the tax amount corrected.
Gibbons said she purchased items at least once a week to keep checking the amount.
She encouraged others in her Facebook post to call the retailer’s corporate office.
Gibbons is no stranger to helping rally the community behind a cause. In 2016 she set up a GoFundMe drive as part of a community effort to help a Key Peninsula Boy Scout troop recover funds that mysteriously went missing from its bank account.
On Feb. 5, The News Tribune asked the Department of Revenue about the sales tax discrepancies and submitted its own receipt example that showed an 8.5 percent sales tax rate.
Beverly Crichfield, communications consultant with the Department of Revenue, responded to The News Tribune via email, noting that by law, the department could not discuss any tax information about any business.
“In general, if the Department of Revenue is made aware that a business may be collecting the incorrect amount of sales tax, we will contact that business and educate them on the correct sales tax rate,” she wrote.
“We will work with the business to make sure they are collecting the correct rate of sales tax,” she added. “Many times, the business is not intentionally using the wrong rate to collect sales tax.”
By Monday, Gibbons had good news to share.
“I just stopped in to Dollar Tree and they have fixed the sales tax. Yay!” she wrote The News Tribune.
The store did in fact adjust the amount collected and by Monday was charging the correct sales tax on items — 7.9 percent.
Some of the confusion could have been the fact that the store has a Gig Harbor address but is located outside that city’s own sales tax boundary.
According to Crichfield, the “current tax rate in Gig Harbor is 8.5 percent. The rates in other parts of unincorporated Pierce County depend on your location. They range from 7.9 percent to 9.3 percent.”
Crichfield recommended that for those who question the sales tax charged by a business, or if a business isn’t sure, both can go to the state’s Tax Rate Lookup Tool.
“If a consumer finds they are overcharged, they should go back to the business and request a refund of the sales tax that was incorrectly collected,” Crichfield wrote.
She also noted that the department was “not aware of many complaints about being charged the incorrect sales tax rate.”
“This is not at all a common complaint,” she added. “If customers don’t ask for a refund of the overcollected amount from the business, then the business must return the over-collected amount to the state.
“If we identify businesses that do not do this, we will assess them for unreported sales tax.”
How much was over-collected has not been made public. Calls and an email from The News Tribune to representatives for the company were not returned.
For her part, Gibbons hopes the money in some way goes back to the community.
“I’d hope they could give a donation to one of our charities. I don’t expect everyone to get their 10 cents back, but maybe some could go to the food banks, for example,” she said.
The whole thing now has her checking receipts, something she encourages others to do, too.
And the balloon is hanging in there at her house.
“It’s still floating as we speak!” she chuckled.