Essentially Ashland: By Lance Pugh — The Meals Tax was conceived in a Machiavellian manner in 1993, when residents living near the present railroad park were told that they would be required to pay for a park destined to be used by anyone who could find it.
Many months ago I attended all the meetings of the Ashland Downtown Task Force, which has seemed to drift into oblivion about the Lion, Bear and Alfredo. I went into those five meetings with the thin tendrils of belief that justice would eventually prevail. I exited believing that it was simply a drill to assuage our concerns and nothing that brought us together would be solved.
This Monday I again attended another moderated, city-sponsored "discussion" about our seemingly never-ending turning of the screws on, supposedly, our visitors in order for them to pay for upgrades in our sewage treatment plant by, but not before, 2023.
We broke up into tables at random and had a city employee seated with us to take notes. I was impressed by the employee's restraint in expressing their opinions. They largely let the public whisper, mumble and muse. Only once did I witness an employee interrupt the entire room to press for us all to reinstate the Meals Tax after it legally expires as originally promised, but not lost is the fog of time and the city's addiction to the extra cash.
The tax was conceived in a Machiavellian manner in 1993, when residents living near the present railroad park were told that they would be required to pay for a park destined to be used by anyone who could find it. Those pushing for the tax told the neighborhood that, if the threatened residents went door-to-door, the tax might be spread amongst all of the denizens of our flushing town. And that, further, if the Meals Tax passed, our sewage treatment plant would be paid for by the tourists, keeping our little boat afloat atop the muck.
Not surprisingly, the council did no studies as to that overall impact of the tax, originally set at 1 percent. What percentage would be paid for by tourists and what amount would be shouldered by the locals was a guess no one made. We fools believed that we would get open space and free flushes. No one mentioned that, since we already pay for sewer, we would be taxed repeatedly. Nor did we shout too loudly when the tax went up to 5 percent not too many weeks later and stayed clinging like a leaky leech ever since.
It was presumed that mainly those from the Bay Area would turn our wastewater into wine, such was our presumptive arrogance. We collectively neglected to consider that many of our local Rogue Valley visitors would be offended by the only Meals Tax in Oregon and might protest by not dining or shopping here, as they did not want to pay for our treatment plant any more than you might enjoy paying a tax to support one of their outrageously expensive infrastructure machinations.
It was made clear that the Ashland Community Food Store collects the most money for the city. But, if you have ever done some shopping there, you will notice that the preponderance of the customers are locals, not the Pirates from the Peninsula that we were told would bear the brunt of the tax. I was told that the next biggest collectors of the Meals Tax were supermarkets with delis. Swell. Another hit on the locals under the guise of soaking the tourists. Pick up something to go after work and, presto, you are an instant tourist.
Years ago it was confirmed that the voters in Ashland had been, once again, duped and misled. The owner of Jacksonville's most successful restaurant told me that, "Your Meals Tax is the best thing that has happened to me. "¦What were you thinking?"
In the final analysis, the city has never had a tax that it did not like.
My best advice is to let the tax expire and re-examine things in a year. This after hundreds of restaurant employees are re-hired and eat and spend in Ashland as they once did when the cash registers were not laced with spider webs.
Lance was last seen eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his side yard while a helicopter hovered overhead to see if his lunch was subject to the 5 percent tax. They soon flew away to inspect a lemonade stand operated by two small children down the block, whose fate remains uncertain. Lance@journalist.com is only surcharge away.