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Ashland hears meals tax opinions

Ashland residents and restaurateurs offered a range of opinions about the city's 5 percent tax on prepared meals and beverages during a series of public forums on Monday.

The city is gathering public input about the tax, which was approved by voters in 1993 and will sunset in 2010 unless renewed by voters. The City Council will discuss the issue on June 16 and must decide by August whether to ask voters to renew the tax in the November election.

Since its inception, the tax has generated $22.5 million, with $18 million going to make debt payments on Ashland's sewage treatment plant and $4.5 million used to buy park land.

If the tax is not renewed, Ashland Finance Director Lee Tuneberg predicts that sewer bills will have to rise by 60 percent to make up for the lost revenue.

Restaurateur John Wallace said the tax has obvious benefits because the money is used to help pay the debt for the sewage plant upgrade and to buy park land.

But Wallace said the tax puts Ashland restaurants at a disadvantage in relation to restaurants in other towns that don't have a prepared meals and beverages tax. If the tax is renewed, he said he hopes that it can be extended to other businesses, which would mean the city could probably reduce the tax rate.

Ashland resident Viki Ashford said she frequently uses parks and trails, and also volunteers at North Mountain Park. She said she is not opposed to taxes.

"I believe if there's something you use, you should have to pay for it," she said.

But Ashford questioned whether the prepared meals and beverages tax is used in the best way. For example, the parks department could use the money to maintain existing parks, rather than buying new land that it can't afford to develop into parks and maintain, she said.

— Ashland Daily Tidings