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Ashland food and beverage tax changes head to voters

Ballot language passes City Council

After two months of debate over potential uses of food and beverage taxes, Ashland City Council confirmed Tuesday the tax should not exist indefinitely.

The council debated for roughly an hour over the potential economic advantages of converting the tax from its current temporary form with a defined sunset date to a tax in perpetuity. Councilors ultimately passed a resolution during Tuesday’s meeting to approve a ballot measure proposed by City Manager Joe Lessard for the tax, which generates roughly $3 million in revenue for the city.

Councilor Paula Hyatt questioned whether converting a temporary funding source into a permanent one would put the city on better economic footing and give council “more levers to pull” in supporting local business. Councilor Stephen Jensen supported the idea at first.

But after a discussion, council unanimously voted down the proposal. Councilors agreed that voters passed the tax because they were told it was temporary, and to change that would be in bad faith. The cost to local business was also too high to consider the food and beverage tax as a permanent funding source.

Hyatt was first to vote against her own floated idea, stating that she was grateful to her colleagues for allowing a discussion to ensure the tax was put to its best use.

Councilor Shaun Moran said if the city were not in a budget shortfall, he would not support the tax, which costs Ashlanders more than the tourists at whom it was originally targeted.

Council ultimately voted in favor of the ballot language proposed by Lessard, which says the food and beverage tax revenue can be used for general government purposes, with up to 73% of the tax available for city needs such as public safety, wildfire prevention and emergency housing.

Parks and recreation is entitled to 25% of the tax. The tax would sunset in 2040.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.