Ashland will vote on drink, food tax

ASHLAND — The city will ask voters in November to extend its 5 percent sales tax on prepared food and drinks until 2030.

Eighty percent of the tax goes to make debt payments for past upgrades to the sewage-treatment plant and 20 percent goes for park-land purchases. The tax will sunset in 2010 if it is not extended.

Payments on sewage-treatment plant debt end in 2022. But the city faces new Oregon Department of Environmental Quality regulations on the release of treated effluent into creeks. DEQ believes the warm effluent is harmful to fish.

The city has yet to decide how to deal with — and pay for — meeting the new regulations.

Several council members worried asking for an extension to 2030, rather than 2022, might alienate some voters. The proposed extension would allow tax receipts to go for sewage capital projects, without narrowing the focus to paying sewage-plant debt.

"As soon as you broaden the language, there are a number of people who you're going to lose their vote," Councilman David Chapman said.

Without a renewal of the tax, sewage bills could rise by 60 percent, Ashland Finance Director Lee Tuneberg has warned.

A council majority also supported giving the Ashland Parks & Recreation Department more flexibility when it comes to spending the 20 percent of tax receipts that have been dedicated to park-land purchases.

The parks department at times has lacked funds to develop new park land it bought.

If voters extend the meals tax, the Parks Department would be required to spend 20 percent of the 20 percent it receives on land purchases. The rest could be used for planning and developing parks, and doing major rehabilitation projects for park facilities.

"I think it's very important that we protect a certain percentage of this for parks acquisition," Councilor Eric Navickas said. "We will regret it in the future if we don't."

A majority of the council also favored putting a $250 tax cap on catered events that cost $5,000 or more.

The Oregon Restaurant Association had asked that no tax be collected at all on catered events that serve 150 people or cost more than $5,000.

Oregon Restaurant Association Southern Oregon Regional Representative Drew Baily said lifting the tax on big events would encourage large groups of people to come to Ashland, where they would dine, shop and stay in hotels.

Councilman Greg Lemhouse supported the idea, but couldn't get enough support from his fellow councilors to make the change.

Councilwoman Carol Voisin said exempting large events from the tax would be unfair because only a small number of businesses would benefit from the exemption.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or

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