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Jville meals tax headed for the ballot

JACKSONVILLE — A 5 percent food and beverage tax measure has gathered enough verified signatures to be put before voters in the Nov. 6 election.

The meals tax would be an alternative to a current surcharge on utility bills for police services. The City Council will deliberate options for the measure when it meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 17, in Old City Hall, 205 W. Main St.

Proponents needed 366 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. On June 21, they turned in 528, 438 of which were verified by Jackson County Elections.

“We are going to run a positive campaign,” said Doug Phillips, who led the petition efforts. “We are not going to get into any negative stuff. We are just going to get information out to the voters. We’ll use mailers, town hall meetings and maybe set up some neighborhood meetings.”

Phillips and others proposed the measure in response to the City Council’s action on May 1 that set a $20 surcharge on monthly utility bills to finance police services for the next five years.

The city’s Budget Committee and the council studied funding for police for more than a year before recommending the surcharge over a tax levy vote. A meals tax was rejected by the study group early in its efforts.

Phillips said residents told him they were glad funding for police services was being put to a vote of the people rather than being a council decision.

“There’s lots of misunderstanding and misinformation out there,” he said.

The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association will hold a meeting with restaurant owners next week to establish a campaign against the measure, said Joel Pomerantz, regional representative for the group. The association already helped with mailers and table tents that were placed in restaurants over the last few weeks.

“We will be working with the Jacksonville restaurants to talk to voters about why we think it’s a bad idea for the community,” said Pomerantz. “One of the issues is that it is really unfair. The ballot measure is aimed at paying for a communitywide service that the residents of Jacksonville want and need. Customers alone can’t pay for a communitywide need.”

Voters in Eugene, Grants Pass and other cities in Oregon have rejected meals taxes, said Pomerantz. In Oregon, only Ashland and Yachats have a meals tax.

“Per state election law, within 30 days of the signatures being verified, it has to go before the governing body,” said Stacey Bray, city assistant administrator and finance director. The council has three options when it meets on July 17.

They could reject the matter, in which case it would automatically be placed on the ballot; they could approve the measure, which would lead to enactment without going on the ballot; or they could submit a countermeasure for the ballot.

Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce has come out in opposition to the meals tax. The organization said it supports the decision of the Budget Committee to recommend the surcharge.

“A meals tax would place the city under an unfair economic disadvantage compared to its neighbors. Potential visitors would choose other cities for recreation and dining,” Chamber President Robert Roos wrote.

The City Council has approved a wavier or discount on the $20 fee for low-income residents. Those who earn $25,000 or less do not pay the fee. Those earning from $25,001 up to $30,000 annually pay $10 per month.

The fee went into effect on July 1.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Beet salad is a favorite at Onyx restaurant in Jacksonville, where a proposal to enact a meals tax appears headed for the Nov. 6 ballot.