Meals tax to be on November ballot
by Larry Chowning
The Middlesex County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to hold a referendum on a meals and beverage tax on the November 5 ballot to allow voters to once again decide on whether such a tax will become law.
This will be the fourth time the meals tax has been voted on in recent years. All three times—1999, 2005 and 2010—Middlesex voters soundly defeated the binding meals tax referendum.
This time as an enticement to encourage voters to vote for the referendum supervisors have tacked on some incentives. If approved, 25% of the revenue will go directly into the general fund, and 25% toward “fire, rescue and emergency services within the locality.”
The other half of revenues “shall be designated and spent solely for the design, construction, improvement, acquisition and debt service for such expenses on debt incurred after June 30, 2014, for development of capital facilities and costs related to capital projects within the locality.”
Harmony Village District supervisor Jack Miller made it clear he was not going to vote for the referendum. “I’m not comfortable with this,” he said. “We’ve tried this three times and failed.”
Pinetop District supervisor Beth Hurd said she felt the meals and beverage tax was a “necessary revenue stream” that the county needs to pursue and she was in favor of the referendum.
Jamaica District supervisor Wayne Jessie said, “People are not going to stop going out to eat because there is a meals tax,” he said. “They have it in Gloucester and people still go over there to eat.”
Jessie said he hopes the tax will be approved by voters as a way to give some tax relief to the owners of real estate, who pay the bulk of Middlesex County taxes.
Board chairman Carlton Revere said, “It would at least be an attempt by us to take some tax pressure off of property owners.” He also said he was not going to vote for it unless the funds were specifically allocated as stated in the motion.
Saluda District supervisor Pete Mansfield was not in attendance. He was out of town dealing with family health issues.
Kenneth Wilt of Hardyville took his three minutes of public input time at the beginning of the meeting to voice his opposition to a meals tax. “Several times I’ve spoken in favor of the concept of a meals and beverage tax here in Middlesex in order to shift some of the tax burden from local residents to those who just come to visit and play here,” he stated from a prepared speech.
“I still think that the concept has merit. However, it has been pointed out to me that it is the spending side of the equation that’s the problem, and that meals tax is the only type of tax left that the local government needs citizen approval on. Furthermore, in the other localities I’ve been studying, where meals taxes have been enacted, real estate taxes continue to go up any way.
“Supervisors had a chance a couple months ago to make a commitment to shift some of the tax burden away from local residents, but instead you raised the property taxes for the second year in a row and told us of how you plan on spending even more money over the next few years as massive capital improvements come on line.
“I’ve changed my mind about the meals tax,” he said. “I don’t support any new taxes on the citizens of Middlesex County. We have been taxed enough already. It is time for the local government to start living within its means like the rest of us. Doing more with less, like the rest of us. Thinking outside the box . . . like the rest of us.
“It’s becoming clear that what we really need is some folks on the board that are more fiscally conservative,” Wilt said.
Earlier this year, Mansfield, Hurd and Jessie approved a 2-cent real estate tax increase on real estate, while Revere and Miller voted against it.