Support varies for proposed Durham meal tax
Posted September 17, 2008 5:09 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2008 6:06 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — Supporters of a proposed 1 percent tax on prepared food say the additional revenue would pay for upgrades and renovations at a number of Durham attractions.
Opponents of the increase say the timing couldn't be any worse.
"It's about equity, really, and about economic development in Durham," said Chuck Watts, co-chairman of the Prepared Food Tax Steering Committee, an advocacy group.
For more than two decades, Durham leaders have been pushing for the tax to fund improvements to facilities like the Hayti Heritage Center and the Carolina Theatre and to build new projects like a minor league baseball museum near the Durham Athletic Park.
Last month, state lawmakers passed a bill that would allow Durham voters to decide. The referendum will appear on the Durham County ballot in November.
The proceeds from the tax would be divided between beautification and cleanup; community marketing; work force development; and civic, cultural and recreational projects.
"It's critical, because there are no other ways to get this done that are as efficient and that are as fair," Watts said.
The North Carolina Restaurant Association says most restaurants and hotels in Durham County are against the food tax, however.
That includes Nosh restaurant owner Wendy Woods, who said that in a bad economy, it's tough enough to keep prices down as costs are going up.
"Right now, I think it's a bad idea," she said.
Adding a tax, even 1 percent, she said, could hurt business.
"It's becoming more and more competitive, and you are working harder to make the same money ... you were two years ago," Wood said.
Those who support the tax said it is an opportunity for Durham County that's not likely to come again.
Watts said that if the tax doesn’t pass in the general election, the delay could cost taxpayers more when they fund future projects.
He cited the Hayti Heritage Center as an example. The center asked for renovations in 1988, and they would have cost $5 million then. Those same renovations now, Watts said, cost $14 million.
Supporters also said the tax could generate $5 million to $7 million dollars a year and that the cost would be minimal to the average person – probably about $18 a year.
Similar taxes have benefited other areas in the Triangle.
In Wake County, a food and beverage tax collected more than $16 million last year, helping to fund projects such as the RBC Center.
Hillsborough, Charlotte and Fayetteville have similar taxes.