Tourism tax draws opposition from Liberty eateries

September 11, 2003|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

LIBERTY - A proposed tax on restaurant and lodging facilities in town has raised concern for some restaurant owners who spoke out at a City Council meeting Wednesday evening.

However, the council approved first reading of an ordinance to form a tourism commission to look at possibilities for attracting people to the city.

The city had proposed up to a 3 percent tax to fund a Tourist and Convention Center to promote tourism and economic development. The tax would be imposed on places where the majority of the businesses is prepared food sales. Places that sell gasoline, groceries and have a small restaurant would be exempt.

Mayor Steve Sweeney said if the tax is approved, all of the money collected will be for promotional efforts and distributed by a tourism commission. The seven-member commission to be appointed by Sweeney will have representatives from restaurants and lodging. They will serve three-year terms.


"I'm totally against it," said Wilma Gipson of Willie's Family Restaurant on Wallace Wilkinson Boulevard. "It will run customers out of town. If I was going to eat, I'd go on down the road where it's cheaper."

She said local people will have to pay the tax until the promotions begin to help.

Arlen Sanders, executive director of the Liberty Economic Development Authority, said the major thing the tax will do is sponsor events to bring people who spend money into town. The businesses also will be advertised in brochures and travel guides at no cost to the business owner.

He would like to see the tax enacted for at least three years when the new agricultural center gets in full swing.

The estimated tax could bring in as much as $200,000 annually, and the mayor assured the group that it would be used solely to promote the county.

Tony Delk, who owns the Lunch Box, said he will only favor the tax if the entire county is included.

Sweeney said that would only increase the tax collection by $30,000.

"We're in tough economic times, and raising tax does not help the economy," Delk said.

Councilman Larry Bowmer asked if Sanders' salary would be paid from the proposed tax. Sanders' salary is currently paid jointly by the city and county and the Liberty Economic Development Corp. Sanders said it would be up to the tourism commission to hire someone to work with tourism.

When Sweeney polled the council on tax matter, Bowmer said he would vote no on the tax.

Councilman Barry Davis said it would be wise to have a tourism commission whether the city imposes a tax or not.

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