Local Politics

Durham residents to vote on meal tax

Posted July 17, 2008 4:54 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2008 6:21 p.m. EDT

— Lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday to allow Durham voters to add a one-percent sales tax on prepared food.

Last week, the House passed the bill allowing the referendum. The Senate passed the bill on Thursday. The referendum will be placed on the Durham County ballot in November.

“It will fund a lot of cultural amenities and projects that county commissions and city council feel strongly about so we want to give the voters a chance to weigh in on this,” Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham County, said.

The proceeds from the tax will be divided between beautification and cleanup, community marketing, workforce development and civic, cultural and recreational projects, Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau President Reyn Bowman said.

While cities including Charlotte, Raleigh and Fayetteville have similar taxes, Bowman said Durham is unique in that the money collected through the tax will be used to benefit residents and local businesses.

Wake County’s food and beverage tax collections were more than $16 million last year, according to Ryan Smith, director of communications at the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Raleigh visitors bureau gets $675,000 of that per year with the rest going to Raleigh, Cary and Wake County to fund projects like the RBC Center, Smith said.

The Durham tax could raise between $5 million and $7 million a year, officials said.

About 40 percent of the tax money collected would come from visitors and commuters, Bowman said. Officials said 70 percent of the people who attend a Durham Bulls game come from outside the city.

Supporters of the tax say the cost will be minimal to the average person, possible $18 a year.

George’s Garage General Manager Mario Vidic said the business has already lost 25 to 30 percent of profits because of higher food costs and gas prices.

“We already have one hit from that – now the food tax is going to go up. Who is going to pay for that?” Vidic said.

Vidic believes fewer people may eat out if there is a higher tax.