A tale of the meals tax

When the meals tax came to a vote last time, some restaurant owners were concerned about it being used to hurt them. The restaurant business is one of the hardest to succeed in, and although the tax would add to the challenge, we were asked to rise to the occasion for open space.

I didn't think that the city would want to hurt the people who were helping bring something so positive to our town. For me open space is a high value. The sewer addition was tacked on. I thought that was already covered by a hotel and motel tax and shouldn't have been added. However, oh well — we were told this was the only way to get open space. So Geppetto's supported the concept of the meals tax, although it seemed to go against our business self interest.

And, indeed, right from the beginning when it passed, people from outlying communities were telling me that they were not coming to eat in Ashland because of the meals tax. This statement is not surprising for Oregonians who continually vote down sales taxes and take principled stands on many issues.

From 1993 to 2000, Geppetto's paid all its meals taxes on time every time. Then medical catastrophe hit. This created physical, mental and financial challenges on many levels. Geppetto's got financially behind.

The last eight years we have been working to catch up. Simplifying a complex story, we got the meals tax and interest paid, but did not have the money to pay the penalty. The city's aggressive tactics to collect this money from Geppetto's threw us into a financial tailspin from which we are still attempting to recover.

Over the last eight years, Geppetto's has paid thousands of dollars to the city and others for penalties and fines directly brought about from the "punishment tactics" that the city of Ashland has used toward Geppetto's.

On the advice of my doctors, I have limited my time worked at Geppetto's to 20 to 30 hours a week for the last eight years. I have received no wages or salary for the last four years. I have used part of my Social Security money to help Geppetto's get in balance. These and other actions have not been enough.

We could and did recover from much of the physical parts of the catastrophe and the medical bills, extra costs of running the restaurant, etc., but we have been unable to recover from the results of the city's actions toward us.

Two years ago we realized that because of both of our continuing health problems, we were unable catch up or do the hours of physical work to take care of Geppetto's and be on a financial even keel.

That was when we made the decision to sell Geppetto's to give it and us a chance to prosper again.

The stress caused by the city's techniques and having financial difficulties so long has taken its toll on Geppetto's restaurant and its owners and staff and others connected to the Geppetto's money flow or just plain connected to Geppetto's.

Our continuing cash flow problems have brought us to our current situation. The city is attempting to fine us $31,000 on a tax amount of less than $1,500. This is an example of the city's tactics. We didn't pay because of our cash flow problems. If we are having trouble with that, where is the money for the $31,000? That's 2,000 percent of the tax. For every dollar we owe, the city is asking the court to award them an additional $20 dollars. Imagine the additional stress as we are running a restaurant, organizing a community farm, dealing with medical problems and just living our daily lives.

We will be leaving the restaurant soon. We are completely committed to paying any meals tax money owed and will do so.

The original idea of the meals tax had merit. Now we know that there are other ways that could have gotten open space. And there could be other creative ideas to help raise money for the city to help with the wastewater plant and other city needs.

It has been uncomfortable for me to be in this financially difficult position for so long. Even so we have continued sharing with the Ashland community that we love so much. It has been difficult to have our situation so public. However, I realized I had to write this statement. No person including business owners should be treated the way the city of Ashland has treated us. If I had heard of another business that was being treated this way, I would feel I should stand up and say this is wrong.

Kathleen MacMichael and her husband Ron Roth have operated Geppetto's for 32 years, 8 months and one week.

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