Fifteen Ashland restaurateurs met this morning to strategize about how to fight the city's food and beverage tax through a just-formed political action committee.
The leaders of the anti-meals tax effort — Don Anway, general manager of the Ashland Springs Hotel, and Denise Daehler, owner of Liquid Assets Wine Bar — have formed Advocates for the Community of Ashland, a political action committee against the renewal of the tax.
In November, voters will be asked whether to renew the 5 percent tax for another 20 years.
The restaurant owners and employees at the meeting, held at the Ashland Springs Hotel, are against the tax because they say it costs them business and hurts the city's economy.
"It creates an obstacle in the Valley and in the state," Anway said. "And it's not only our business that's affected — it's the whole city of Ashland."
Representatives from the Winchester Inn, Pasta Piatti, Sesame Asian Kitchen, Omar's Restaurant, Grilla Bites, Cucina Biazzi, Lark's Home Kitchen Cuisine and Giseppi's Pizza attended the meeting.
Anway and Daehler handed out a list of talking points and encouraged the restaurateurs to tell their employees and customers to vote against the tax.
In addition to its grassroots efforts, the organization will start an advertising campaign next month to try to educate locals about the tax, Daehler said.
About 20 percent of the tax, approved by voters in 1993, goes to pay for open space in Ashland, and the remainder goes to pay the city's debt on its wastewater treatment system.
If the tax is not renewed, city officials say sewer rates will increase significantly.
Anway, however, doubts that rates would increase more than about $10 for an average household and he thinks some of that cost should be absorbed by the city, he said.
"I think there are other options," he said.
Daehler said she believes there is a good chance voters will refuse to renew the meals tax in November — especially if most of the city's 5,000 restaurant workers vote against the tax.
"We'll probably have a very good chance of winning this if we can get our staff to vote," she said.
Melissa McMillan, a waitress at Larks, said she has seen firsthand how the tax can hurt the city's economy and cost people jobs.
"If a restaurant makes less money than they did the year before, so many employees lose jobs," she said. "And then there's less people to go to the movies and buy things, so it's a down-spiraling effect."
She said tourists sometimes complain when they learn that they have to pay a tax that goes to support the city's wastewater treatment plant.
"The water sewage is not a tourist responsibility," she said. "The tourists have already done so much for this town."
Advocates for the Community of Ashland will hold its next meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 25 in the Crystal Room at the Ashland Springs Hotel. Anyone may attend.
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.