One afternoon, while walking downtown some many summers ago, I heard the finely tuned roar of something Italian on steroids charging up the street. It passed me in a blink, but I could not help but notice that a man was at the wheel and a younger woman with blond and impossibly long hair were both caught in a vortex of attention as heads twisted in a fashion smiled upon by chiropractors.




It was then that I heard a garble of comments that basically added up to the proposition that the driver was the owner of yet another trendy Ashland restaurant who lived life large, owing to the tsunami of cash that the tourists had thrown at him nightly. In retrospect the gossip and speculations were unfounded, but they were based on the assumption that our visitors should shoulder more and more of our basic city expenses.




A lot of people automatically resent the affluent who visit our town, spending freely and seemingly enjoying themselves. Most politicians detect such things and, in the rare case that they do not, their campaign managers do. Understanding such human frailties and those who would lead us around by the nose, I present to you another version of Ashland's Meal Tax, first adopted in 1993 and purportedly to sunset in 2010. Fat chance.




Under the guise of taxing only tourists, the council adopted a moderate tax that would last a finite period of time. It seems that the camel's nose was already under the tent. The rest was predictable. Within a couple of months the tax was increased to its maximum and, lo these many years, is still in effect. While it has brought in millions for open space and to pay for our still non-compliant sewage treatment plant, the effect upon the food and beverage industry in Ashland has been, well, disastrous.




While bureaucrats and politicians see only the cash inflow into the city's vast coffers, the owners and staffs of our restaurants have seen, over the years, their revenues remain flat.




I do my best to try not overhearing conversations, but nearly every time I eat in Medford I hear the topic of Ashland's meal tax surface, only to be soundly condemned and followed by an oath never to dine in Ashland again. It seems, somehow, that the residents of the Rogue Valley consider themselves locals and don't wish to pay for our expansive and expensive park property acquisitions, nor do they consider themselves affluent enough to pay for our effluent. They must all be myopic not to celebrate our inflow of cash and express themselves by bombarding Jacksonville and some of Medford's best, with large reservations for office parties, birthdays and special get-togethers. Through it all they gloat that not a single penny is dropped in Ashland.




So, the restaurateurs in Ashland collect a targeted tax, which is the bane of the Valley. No other city in Oregon has a meals tax, for most feel it unfair to single out an industry for taxation and use the proceeds for other reasons. It just doesn't seem fair, but, hey, it raises approximately $1.7 million per year, though food and beverage sales are flatter than the city's soul.




In a run-up to the promised 2010 sunset of the tax, we are all sure to be assaulted with pictures of pristine wilderness, doe-eyed does, frolicking kids at the water park, romantic strolls through Lithia Park, but probably nothing visual and surely nothing olfactory about the sewage treatment plant that is upwind of the recently approved Verde Village.




I say that if a tax stinks, don't wear it with pride.




Lance was last seen looking through the window of a fine restaurant, thinking back to the times when he ate there free from underwriting endless land purchases and the renovation of our common outhouse. You may contact him at lance@journalist.com with suggestions on how to raise taxes or lower city expenses, if you're not too pooped.