The proof is in Ashland's parks
As we all know, the fall is a time each year for all voters in Ashland to make important decisions in regards to the future of our community. This fall is no different. Soon, we will all have to decide whether or not to keep a meals tax that has existed since 1993 and has been responsible for purchasing open space for parks and paying an existing debt on the wastewater treatment plant. These types of decisions are always difficult to make and should be. After all, we are making decisions regarding how our money is spent as a community. Decisions of this nature should always be carefully considered, which is what I did in deciding to support the continuation of the meals tax.
I first looked at what the tax has done for Ashland. The proof is all around us in beautiful parks that attract families to live in our town, attract visitors and increase our community livability overall. It has also successfully paid down the existing debt to the treatment plant, which must get paid with or without the tax.
In the meantime, we have seen economic growth in our town. Parks, libraries and fire stations have been built, and house values have gone up 50 percent since the inception of the tax. We have survived the devastating flood of 1997, the burst of the internet bubble and now are fighting our way through a recession. During that time, we have seen new restaurants continue to open and thrive, and we continue to attract more than 300,000 visitors annually. In short, the meals tax has done what it was intended to, and Ashland has benefited.
For me, the question of continuing the tax comes down to a fundamental decision. Should we be able to retain our money to spend as we choose, or should we be forced to pay a 60 percent increase (tax) on sewer rates?
To me the answer is obvious. I believe in the freedom of the taxpayer to spend their money when and where they want, rather than requiring them to pay a regressive tax on basic utilities. Allowing the talented business entrepreneurs of Ashland the opportunity to compete for our money is better and fairer for everyone.
In the end, after the votes are counted, we will still be neighbors, coworkers, business partners, friends and family. We should remember this and treat each other with respect and kindness throughout this process, regardless of what the outcome will be. I respect those on both sides of the issue. The most difficult part of this debate is disagreeing with those you respect and care about, but in the end I believe we all want what is best for Ashland. As a witness to what the meals tax has brought us and after considering the alternative, I feel strongly that continuing the meals tax in Ashland is the right thing for us to do and is what is best for our community.
Ashland City Councilor
Ashland's meals tax, the cheaper way to go
I am astounded that some Ashlanders oppose the meals tax. It represents so little money on a menu when eating out, because if one can afford to eat out then the meals tax becomes part of the meal charge. However, let's look at the real issues. Our wonderful parks and acquisition of future parks and the maintenance thereof for all of us, including visitors to Ashland, are included in the parks benefit of this tax. Do we not want to have these parks?
The other issue is the maintenance of our wastewater treatment plant. We have one of the finest in the country. However, it costs money — millions of dollars — and to get that money the citizens of Ashland borrowed to build this plant and pay the employees to run it. (They do a fantastic job too.) That money has to be paid back, period. To pay it back we have two choices: the meals tax or raising the sewer tax 60 percent on those who own property. Those who rent will most likely get an increase.
Ashland has 350,000 visitors a year and they all eat out. Has anyone thought of the logic of paying the high cost of gas as opposed to eating in Ashland to avoid a 5 percent meals tax? Our motels and hotels are usually full, and these people eat out here. I am surprised at the restaurant owners in opposing this tax. Have they taken a survey of our visitors? Do they oppose tipping also? I think not. When I was young and a student at the University of Michigan, we (a group of us, with some outside help) opened a co-op restaurant to cope with the high cost of eating at the local restaurants.
Within one year we paid off our debts, were serving 9,000 meals a day and were feeding one-sixth of the student population at the university. The restaurant business is not easy; it is tough work to make a profit. I recommend all of us support our local restaurants, pay off our sewer debt and improve our park system without raising our sewer taxes by voting to support the meals tax. It is the cheaper way to go. Do not shoot ourselves in the foot by increasing our sewer tax.
(And to think that we spend $6.5 million a day on war.)
Support the future economy of Ashland
Several letters have been written stating tourists have an impact on the infrastructure of our community and should contribute to paying the cost. Tourists spend more than $35 million annually here, and more than 2,400 jobs are provided by tourism. Lodging establishments generate almost $2 million a year for the city of Ashland through the 9 percent lodging tax. We are fortunate Ashland is a tourist destination. No other industry provides what tourism is already providing.
The possibilities of the revenues generated from the tourism industry are hindered by the sales tax. A major Ashland attraction, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is having an outstanding year both in sales and attendance. Simultaneously, sales of prepared foods and hotel occupancy in Ashland are down. Due to Ashland's food-sales tax, tourists choose nearby communities to stay and dine. If this trend continues, our sewer bills will continue to go up and the lodging tax that supports the city of Ashland will continue to go down.
It is a fact that this sales tax discourages business from coming to Ashland.
The Ashland Springs Hotel has a sales team that promotes Ashland daily. On a weekly basis we are faced with clients who choose against Ashland due to the sales tax. When we lose a conference or a group, it not only affects our business but the whole community. Just this month we lost a group for January 2010 due to the sales tax. Often Ashland loses thousands of dollars over $200 in sales tax. This community needs winter business; it is not by choice many restaurants have to close their doors in January.
We are also losing tour groups on a regular business. As the general manager at the Red Lion Hotel in Medford for more than five years, I welcomed the business Ashland lost.
In a recent conversation I had with a Medford resident, he pointed out: "The state of Washington has created a tax-exempt status for Oregonians. Why does Ashland think they are any different?" Being recognized as a tax-free state, how can Ashland tax Oregonians and visitors?
Ashland voters need to weigh the consequences of committing to 20 more years of this tax. This is about the future of our community. Vote no on the Ashland food-sales tax.
Ashland Springs Hotel
Letter at length, October 28
The proof is in Ashland's parks