Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

TOP STORY >>Jacksonville restaurant tax weighed

Leader staff writer

Is a two-cent hamburger tax in Jacksonville’s future?

It’s very possible. The chamber of commerce tourism committee has been working on the idea and presented it to the city’s advertising and promotion commission Monday night.

A two-cent tax would generate slightly more than a half-a-million dollars a year. A tax of up to three cents on prepared foods, commonly known as a hamburger tax, could be approved by the city council without a vote by residents.

Money from the tax would be funneled to the advertising and pro motion commission for their use to promote and market the city. The commission will discuss the idea at its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on April 19 at city hall.

Mike Wilson, chairman of the chamber’s tourism committee, said Monday evening that the chamber group had been working on the proposal ever since a tourism study paid for by the advertising and promotion commission recommended ways of increasing the commission’s pool of money.

“We want to work with you, the commission, and the council, to develop a financing plan to bring more tourism into the city,” Wilson said. Alderman Marshall Smith, chairman of the advertising and promotion group, said, “It’s clear that your group has put a lot of hard work and effort into this.”

Under Wilson’s proposal, the two-cent tax would bring in almost $550,000 annually, coupled with the two-cent hotel tax, about $80,000 annually, the commission would have $630,000 to work with.

His committee suggests the commission keep about $100,000 for discretionary spending; Reed’s Bridge Civil War Battlefield, the military history museum, the city’s parks and recreation department would each get $109,000; and the newly created Keep Jacksonville Beautiful group would get $94,000.

About $61,000 would be spent by the chamber, the commission and the council on printed advertising, promotion and marketing. Other expenditures for the money include $31,400 in administrative costs, and $5,000 each to the Patriotic Spectacular and the Wingding Festival.

Alderman Bob Stroud, a longtime proponent of a hamburger tax, had his doubts. “When most people go out to eat, they don’t think about the tax, so that doesn’t bother me. But this looks like we are divvying up a slush fund,” he said.

Ironically, Wilson filed suit a few years ago to prevent the state legislature from divvying up general improvement funds.
“What do I tell the citizens?” Stroud said. “I do want to improve our city’s tourism, but what are we going to give the citizens for their money?” Stroud asked. Wilson responded, “It will be a hard sell.”

“We do need to sell it,” Stroud said, reminding the commission that the city spent a year “selling” the idea of the community center before going to the voters for funding.

Wilson said that his committee envisions this hamburger tax to be a joint effort between the chamber, the commission, and the council.

The commission took no official action on the proposal, but did vote to meet in April to discuss it further. The commission normally meets every three months.