By a wide margin, Ashland voters on Tuesday approved a 20-year extension of the city's 5 percent meals tax, ensuring funding for debt payments on a wastewater treatment system and the purchase of parkland.

By a wide margin, Ashland voters on Tuesday approved a 20-year extension of the city's 5 percent meals tax, ensuring continued funding for debt payments on a wastewater treatment system and the purchase of parkland.

The ballot measure, which cast restaurant owners against city officials, passed with 59 percent of the vote.

In total, 4,123 voted in favor of renewing the tax on prepared food and beverages, and. 2,885 people voted against it. The voter turnout was 40 percent.

At Standing Stone Brewing Co., backers of the tax gathered around a laptop computer Tuesday night, relaying numbers from the Jackson County Elections Office and toasted the victory with pints of beer.

"I'm thrilled that Ashland citizens put community before themselves," said former City Councilor and Standing Stone owner Alex Amarotico, one of the few restaurant owners to back the levy.

About 60 restaurant and hotel owners in the city strongly opposed the tax renewal, saying the Ashland-specific tax costs them business and unfairly targets the city's tourism industry.

The tax renewal means the tourism industry in Ashland faces an uphill battle for the next 20 years, said Don Anway, general manager of the Ashland Springs Hotel and an organizer of a political action committee created to fight the renewal of the tax.

"It's disappointing," he said this morning. "I thought it would have been closer."

Kit Crumb, owner of Ashland Fitness Studio, said four restaurants owners working out in his gym this morning were saddened by the news.

"I have some restaurant people in here that will be crying," he said. "It's more in principal — the fact that this means it's renewed for many more years."

City officials said the tax was a smart way to spread out costs and help pay for improvements to the city. If the tax had not been renewed, city administrators said the average homeowner's sewer bill would increase by 60 percent, or about $10 per month.

Businesses that collect the tax keep 5 percent for their efforts and the city receives 2 percent for its administrative costs.

Of the remaining amount, 80 percent goes to pay the city's debt on its sewage treatment plant and for future sewage projects. About 20 percent goes to buy parkland, develop parks and fund major parks projects.

The tax renewal may have passed because Ashland residents voted with their pocketbooks, hoping to avoid higher sewer bills, said former Ashland Mayor Cathy Shaw, who helped lead the campaign to extend the tax.

"That portion of this vote is really about affordable living in Ashland," she said this morning. "The tax certainly shoulders a huge portion of the debt on the wastewater treatment plant."

Although the election result was disheartening to opponents of the tax, they don't plan to let the issue die, Anway said.

"I think the key is we have to work with our City Council and mayor because they do have the authority to eliminate the tax earlier," he said.

Before the vote, Anway said he told several city councilors: "Who wins and loses, that doesn't really matter — this is about moving forward in the future in our community."

Freelance writer John Darling contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.