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Ashland meals-tax vote returns remain sluggish

Jackson County Elections Division officials said less than a third of Ashland voters had turned in their ballots by 2 p.m. Friday.

Ashland voters are being asked whether they want to renew the city's 5 percent sales tax on prepared food and drinks.

While the issue has been a hot topic in the city, ballot returns showed only 31.6 percent had voted.

It's too late for voters to mail their ballots and be certain they will arrive by the 8 p.m. deadline on Tuesday, according to elections officials. Voters should instead hand deliver their ballots, either to a drop box behind the Ashland Public Library or to a curb-side drop box that is next to the Jackson County Elections Division at 1101 W. Main St., Medford.

About 60 restaurants, hotels and other businesses have banded together to oppose the tax.

Meanwhile, other residents who include past and current elected city representatives have mounted a less vocal effort to convince voters to renew the tax until 2030. The tax will sunset in December 2010 if it's not renewed.

At the Flat Top Barbershop in Ashland, barber Chris Diaz said this week that most of the talk among his clients is about the H1N1 flu, not the meals tax.

"We get a lot of owners and managers of restaurants and a lot of them don't want the meals tax any more," he said. "As far as the rest of the local community, we don't hear them talk about it so much."

Ashland resident Holly Adams, who was holding a baby outside Henry's Laundromat, said she thinks the meals tax is a good idea.

"I'm all for it if it helps support something the community needs," she said, adding that she has already voted.

If the meals tax is renewed, businesses that collect the tax will keep 5 percent for their efforts and the city will receive 2 percent for administrative costs. Of the remaining amount, 80 percent will go to fund debt incurred for a past sewage treatment plant upgrade and for future sewage projects.

The remaining 20 percent will be used to buy park land, develop parks and fund major parks projects.

A couple inside the laundromat had negative feelings about the meals tax. The two did not want to give their names.

The woman said she is opposed to a sales tax on food.

"That's not right," she said, noting that she hasn't voted yet, but will.

The man said he was not registered to vote, and wouldn't take part in the vote.

"I haven't thought much about it. I don't think we need it," he said.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.