Leader Blues

Monday, July 09, 2007

TOP STORY >>Council has votes to assess new tax

IN SHORT: Residents of Jacksonville will have a chance to speak at a meeting July 16.

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Even though the idea of a proposed two-cent tax on prepared foods was on the Jacksonville City Council agenda just for discussion Thursday night, it was clear that it had enough support to pass.

The levy, also known as a hamburger tax, would bring in $550,000 annually, which would be added to the $88,000 the city’s advertising and promotion commission already receives through a two-cent hotel tax.

But with no ordinance drawn up, the council decided to meet with the advertising and promotion commission on July 16 to lock in how the money will be spent before the council votes on the tax at its July 19 meeting. “We don’t want this to look like we have a pool of money that we are divvying up among friends and favorite projects,” explained Alderman Gary Fletcher.

Aldermen Bob Stroud, Avis Twitty, Bill Howard and Reedie Ray were ready to approve the tax Thursday night.

“We’ve got to get going on this if we want to see growth,” said Ray.

“I’m tired of seeing headlines saying we have stagnant growth and that Sherwood and Cabot are going to pass us by,” Twitty said.

“You all go out to eat to the north and the south of us and you don’t even notice that they have a two-cent tax on foods. You just pay the bill,” Stroud told the council.

Under a current budget proposal from the advertising and promotion commission, the commission has suggested that it use half the income, or $275,000, for professional promotion and marketing campaigns to bring people to Jacksonville and its attractions.

“Some people, even inside the city, don’t know about the Splash Zone and other attractions we have here,” explained Alderman Marshall Smith, who is also the chairman of the advertising and promotion commission.

About 30 percent of the tax, or $163,000, will be given to the city’s parks and recreation department to be used for park improvements and operations.

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History will get $22,000 of the new money to help get the necessary permission to display static aircraft and to help toward maintenance of the C-130 display.

The commission has earmarked $20,000 for the patriotic spectacular show to increase its promotion of the activity and allow for a bigger fireworks show. Rain put a damper on much of the show this year.

The Reed’s Bridge Battlefield group will get $12,000 to buy Civil War displays and make other improvements to the site to bring in tourists.

Wing Ding will get $10,000 to help bring in a big-name entertainer to the festival, helping to bring in more tourists.

The commission will set aside $30,000 of the tax for projects, requests and ideas that come up during the year that are not already budgeted. Another $18,000 will be used to help pay for the staff to coordinate and collect the tax data, staff training and educating businesses and the public on what types of items are taxable.

John Hartwick, a chamber of commerce board member, said the group was not against the tax, but wanted the city and residents to take time to fully understand the implications of the tax and exactly how the money is going to be spent.

Alderman Terry Sansing also felt the city was moving too quickly on the idea. “We need to take our time and sell this to the people just like we sold the tax for the community center and the library and other projects.”

Sansing also didn’t like the timing. “The state just cut three cents off the grocery tax and here we are wanting to add two cents on to prepared foods,” he said.

Alderman Kenny Elliott and others suggested holding a public hearing on the tax. But Mayor Swaim pointed out the commission had been discussing the tax plan for the past nine months and very few residents voiced concerns.