Just read the Sunday Mail Tribune editorial on the meals tax and was astounded by the flippancy of their arguments. They begin the editorial by denigrating the hard work of every restaurant owner in Ashland, then compound that mistake at the end by insinuating that all people have to do to avoid the tax is not eat out at restaurants.
Newspapers are meant to be advocates for the entire community, not just those in a position of power. If Tribune editors can't see that this tax has placed an unfair burden on one segment of the community, then maybe they should refrain from inflaming their readers with such derisive editorials.
Editors, you claim the tax does not harm restaurants and that restaurateurs are a bunch of whiners. Put yourself in their shoes. Let's assume that the city of Medford wanted to find a convenient scapegoat to pay for their new water park. Staff convinced the City Council to place a measure on the ballot which called for a 5 percent tax on the sale of all newspapers, including clicks on their websites.
They convinced 50.5 percent of the voters to approve it, arguing that "tourists" buy newspapers off the rack, and it would "spread the tax around." Unless you see the death of newspapers as a fait accompli, you would oppose such an unfair tax.
What if opponents then accused you of being whiners and that the tax was merely about giving people a choice? If people wanted to avoid the tax, all they would have to do was stop buying newspapers. Wouldn't you feel offended if someone made such an unfair, uncaring argument?
Think about it and then ask yourself if you did the right thing for this community with that irresponsible editorial.
Sneak Preview editor
The impact of tourism
The opponents of the meals tax have created a lot of hot air around the supposed economic losses. What they don't discuss is the impact of tourism on our city's infrastructure.
There are about 20,000 residents in Ashland and there are 350,000 tourists per year. This influx put a significant strain on our infrastructure, which must accommodate not 20,000 residents but the peak influx during the summer months. Would we have had the water restrictions this past summer without 350,000 visitors flushing, showering and having their sheets laundered? What will happen when the snow pack on Mt. Ashland recedes even more? Who will pay for the connection to the Medford/Talent water pipeline should it become necessary?
The meals tax provides a modest way to capture some of the financial inflows from tourism to pay for the social cost that tourism generates. The opponents are proposing to socialize the cost of tourism while keeping the benefits private. Let's not go along with that old strategy. Vote yes on the meals tax.
Tax lets visitors chip in
Yes ... it is a hassle for restaurants to collect the city of Ashland's meals tax, but this tax significantly benefits our fair city's tourist economy.
Why do restaurant owners want to be close to Lithia Park or provide creekside dining on Calle Guanajuato (a part of the city of Ashland Parks) — but think it's unfair when they're asked to help collect a tax for what makes Ashland a unique place to visit?
Restaurateurs are happy to serve visiting teams who play on the fields at North Mountain Park — but think the tax that helped create that venue that brings in hundreds of hungry athletes and their families to their place of business is unfair?
Beautiful parks and a well functioning sewer treatment facility are essential to keep our visitors coming, and the meals tax allows the city to have our visitors chip in to help pay for the facilities they enjoy.
A better solution
With regard to the sales tax on food, proponents say they need the money to develop the parkland that was purchased over the last 15 years. I think there's a better solution, one modeled after the Jacksonville Woodlands Association.
In 1989, the people in Jacksonville joined together to form a nonprofit foundation with the goal of purchasing open space for an elaborate system of trails around its city. They succeeded in purchasing (or receiving donations) of more than 300 acres of land at a total value of $10 million.
Surely in Ashland — a city known for its charitable giving and community activism — something similar could happen. Why do we have to resort to a sales tax that pits neighbor against neighbor and drives business away from town? We can be a lot more creative than that.
Taxes maintain city
We support the Ashland meals tax and Ashland restaurants. As a middle class family saving for college and retirement, we eat out three or four times a month. When we go out, we go out in Ashland. The only time we go out in another town is when we're already there for some reason. We would not drive to Medford just for dinner, and we doubt that people in Medford would come here just to eat unless they were doing something else here as well.
In planning vacations over the past 30 years, we have never made decisions based on the tax rate in a potential vacation spot. However, we have decided not to return to places that were not well-maintained, clean and safe. In other words, we have avoided places where taxes were not high enough to maintain the city well enough to make it a good place to visit.
Most of us have struggled with tight budgets at some point in our lives, and we know that buying groceries and cooking at home is an effective way to make it through the month. Lower-income people will not benefit from higher utility bills and lower restaurant bills. When times are tight, we eat rice, beans and potatoes — not take-out.
Ashland residents and visitors need parks, and they need to be inviting and well-maintained. We need clean water and an effective sewage treatment system. Please vote yes to continue the meals tax and share the costs of parks and sewer with all those who use them, including our visitors.
Edwin Johnson and Pauline Black
Against the meals tax
Alan DeBoer is the best mayor we have had since I came here in 1996. I met him through an e-mail I sent to him in protest of the meal tax on bakery and delicatessen food purchased in Ashland. I found out he agreed. He was great.
I was a nurse who cared for many people in their homes. They were unable to cook a chicken nor make potato salad or bake. One of them is gone now. The Baptist Church still remembers her and her doctors and friends. She had enough to live on, but when Safeway had a sale on roasted chicken, lemon meringue pie and croissants, she would buy them. But the meals tax stopped her, except on sale items. I frequently took her things when I cooked. I now never buy anything that has a meal tax on it. The homeless sometimes have food stamps and cannot afford the tax and cannot cook. The $35,000 or more the city paid for a psychologist to teach the council how to speak to each other could have been used to pay for the sewer.
Letters to the Editor October 23