As Election Day approaches the debate on bond referenda and meals tax is beginning to heat up. elected officials and county staff are making the rounds, holding community meetings across the county. If a Gallop poll was held today, it would be difficult to see the point spread between the those advocating for the referenda and meals tax and those who oppose it.
“I am strongly against the restaurant tax. If the beneficiary of the proposed tax (the school system) needs funds for necessary things, then we should provide the funds through ordinary methods, namely increase the real estate or other usual tax. Ordinary needs like new school construction and repair and teachers’ salary and retirement should be paid for up front by ordinary taxing methods. Special taxes like a restaurant tax never go away, even after their original purpose has been provided for. After the schools’ needs have been provided for, the tax will go on and on and on,” said Bob Quirin, a Chester resident.
Mr. Quirin is not the only person concerned with a sunset clause. The concern seems to be a common thread that runs through the message of those in opposition.
“I’m concerned that there is no sunset clause in the meals tax. Will the tax continue forever after the bonds are retired and be used for something else? We are still lacking the fire station on Harrowgate Road which was part of the last bond referendum,” said David Dodd of the Bermuda District. “What’s going to happen with Chester Middle School? There were promises made, but I don’t see anything related to it in this referendum. In fact I don’t see parity in the school referendum. Where is the school funding for the district that creates the most tax dollars for the county – Bermuda.”
Restaurant owner, Joe Heibling, is against the meals tax for a number of reasons. He’s not worried with short-term loss but how it will affect him and the county in the long run.
Heibling says “I really don’t want it on restaurants. I don’t know if it would slow down my business immediately or not, but in the long we would notice it. Many people from out of town who stop in Richmond to eat are surprised at the price of food. What has been great is that we have always had a low meals tax, now we’ll be right there with Richmond.”
“I don’t see tourists in here, [Howletts Restaurant and Tavern],” Heibling said. “But when people eat downtown they say it is so expensive. Well, it’s not necessarily the cost of the meal, but the tax that is added to the meal.”
A number of county residents want to know what’s inside the bonds and the specifics of how the funds will be spent. How will citizens know exactly how much is spent on each project and if there will be enough transparency.
“I’m definitely against it,” Ralph Carter, a Chester resident, told the Village News. “I would much rather see better responsibility and accountability. I still say the county should be more transparent with an online checkbook. We should be able to see the spending items on the bond more closely before creating more debt on our credit card.”