Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

TOP STORY >>Hamburger tax on agenda

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce wants the brakes put on a proposed two-cent tax on prepared foods, also known as a hamburger tax.

The city council will discuss the tax at its council meetin at 7 p.m. Thursday at city hall.

The new tax, which does not need to be voted on by residents, will bring in about $550,000 annually to be added to the $88,000 the city’s advertising and promotion commission already receives through a two-cent hotel tax.

Money generated from the new tax will give Jacksonville’s military museum a chance to bring in aircraft to display on the museum grounds, help bring in a big- name entertainer to the Wing Ding Festival and fire up the fireworks at the annual patriotic spectacular.

Alderman Marshall Smith, who chairs the advertising and promotion commission, says a number of aldermen are for the tax, but it will only be discussed at this upcoming meeting. “I don’t see us voting on it yet. Everyone needs to take a good look at it, before we put it in an ordinance,” he said.

That’s what the chamber wants, too.

Pat Bond, the chamber board president, said the group is not against the tax, but wants 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.

The chamber board has passed a resolution stating that position and plans to present it at the city council meeting.
Based on figures provided by the state department of finance, the commission believes the two-cent tax will bring in $550,000 the first year.

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.

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 the purchase of an aircraft.

The commission has earmarked $20,000 for the patriotic spectacular show to increase its promotion of the event and allow for a bigger fireworks show.

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 for 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.

“For example,” explained Paul Mushrush, the city’s finance director, “if you go into a store or restaurant and fill a to-go box with salad items from the salad bar that is not a prepared food item, but if you add utensils, then it becomes taxable.”
According to state law, a city can have up to a three-cent tax on prepared foods and up to a three-cent tax on hotel rooms to gain funds for marketing and promotion.

The council can approve up to a two-cent tax in either category without asking for a vote of the residents. A three-cent levy requires a public vote.