Maintain meals tax; Somebody has to pay; Tax works against us; Tax is best we have; Meals tax alternatives
Maintain meals tax
After wading through thousands of words by the spokespersons for eliminating the meals tax, some of them pure nonsense, it is time to use some old fashioned common sense.
Our choices are, pay for the park services and debt reduction covered by this tax ourselves, or let tourists, primarily from California, pay some of it. To me it is a no-brainer. Why would I vote to pay the whole tax when someone else will pay part of it? Having just returned from California, I can assure you that not one person considered it unfair that I pay their sales taxes. Replacing the current meals tax with a sewer tax means that restaurants will either have to absorb the increased cost themselves, reducing their already slim profits, or raise the price of meals to pay it. Guess which result is most likely.
Vote to retain the meals tax.
Somebody has to pay
I have listened to the arguments for and against the Ashland meals tax and the state taxes and have decided on my vote. Part of my decision is informed by living in California when and after Prop 13 was passed, dramatically cutting property taxes, and later seeing other California voter-inspired tax cuts. As a result of those tax cuts, California is broke, its education system too broke to provide enough teachers, its roads under-maintained, and its parks subject to closure or increased user fees.
You cannot get something for nothing. The meals tax pays for the sewage treatment plant, park acquisition and park improvement. We all benefit, it costs very, very little, and most of the tax is paid by visitors anyway. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "I enjoy paying taxes. With it, I buy civilization." The same goes for the state taxes. If you think the cuts in teachers and programs and the increase in class size in Oregon is bad now, brace yourself for something far worse if the tax-cutters get their way. I am voting to pay taxes because Oregon is a wonderful place to live, and whether I like it or not, somebody has to pay for it.
Tax works against us
In arguing for the sales tax on food, Mayor John Stromberg claimed that "the system is working for everyone." Yet, as of Saturday morning, a Medford Mail Tribune online poll revealed that 66.2 percent of respondents were against the tax. Only 16 percent were for it. The Daily Tidings' similar poll had it at 53.8 percent against the tax, with only 40.2 percent in support. With the hospitality industry being a major economic factor in Ashland, this tax is anti-business in that all of us lose when people refuse to come to our fair city.
Jacksonville uses a different model to provide for their open space program without resorting to this type of tax. People claim restaurants are full and flourishing. Our dining room seats 40 people. On a recent night we did 20 dinners, the night before 19. That is only 50 percent capacity. We cut labor both nights. Eight months of the year that is a common occurrence.
As past presidents of the Chamber of Commerce, we've heard the cry, "We need economic development," yet what the city fails to see is the lost room revenues from large groups, who choose to book their events in surrounding cities because the meals tax can add hundreds of dollars to their bill. With new motels and restaurants throughout the valley, Ashland no longer has a distinctive competitive edge, and the city forfeits more in occupancy tax than it makes up in the sales tax on food. The system is not working for "everyone." In fact, it is working against us.
Michael and Laurie Gibbs
The Winchester Inn, Restaurant and Wine Bar
Tax is best we have
I have mixed feelings about the meals tax and I am voting for its renewal.
There has been an impressive organizational effort from the Advocates for the Community of Ashland. I disagree that the tax has a negative impact on those of us who enjoy eating out at our fabulous local restaurants. Having just returned from Texas, where every purchase gets nearly a 9 percent tax slapped on it, I was further convinced that we are paying a minimal price for our state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant and the opportunity for the Parks Department to acquire additional land on behalf of our citizenry.
The cost to pay down our wastewater treatment plant debt should really be paid by every person with a flush toilet. A sales tax seems much more appropriate. Until that happens, I am willing to cough up an additional 5 percent when I enjoy eating out.
I am boggled that not one of the proponents to renew the meals tax bothered to submit a letter in the Jackson County Voter's Pamphlet. I would think that at least one city official or other appropriate person would have advocated their support. The absence of even one "Argument in favor" in the pamphlet was perplexing.
Now that I have expressed my disappointment, it will be a snap to vote yes for Measure 15-95. It is not the ideal and it is the best thing we have at this time.
Meals tax alternatives
Raising utility rates is a false alternative to the meals tax. The true alternatives are: a) Stop subsidizing bus service; b) Stop buying houses for people; c) Eliminate the city staff position that manages buying houses for people; d) Stop paying expensive consultants to help hire senior staff; and e) Stop paying other expensive consultants to help the city decide how it wants to develop. If all these economies, and possibly others, are implemented and the city is still short of money, then a five-year, not 20-year, extension might be warranted. Other cities manage without a meals tax. Why can't we?