Voters toss out meals tax

    Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Back Porch Bar and Grill owner Blu Collins with his wife Jamie Collins inside the Jacksonville restaurant.

    JACKSONVILLE — Voters Tuesday defeated a 5 percent meals tax to fund police services 66 percent to 34 percent. Petitioners put the measure on the ballot after the City Council in May enacted a $20 surcharge on utility bills for police funding.

    “I think the residents of Jacksonville saw this as first and foremost discriminatory,” said Michael Kell, GoodBean Coffee owner, who was on the committee opposing the measure. “To place that kind of burden on a small number of businesses just wasn’t fair, and most people in Jacksonville are fair-minded.”

    A total of 1,285 voters said no, while there were 665 yes votes in results released at 10:17 p.m. The town has about 2,400 registered voters.

    Measure proponents said the vote would give citizens a chance to weigh in on how they wanted to finance police services rather than having the City Council make the decision. They also said the tax would mean tourists are paying for some of the cost of city services.

    Opponents claimed the tax would put the 14 family-owned restaurants in town at a disadvantage compared with other dining establishments in the region. Only Ashland and Yachats have meals taxes in Oregon. They also voiced concerns that the tax would not produce sufficient revenue to fund the services.

    “We just wanted to get it on the ballot so people could choose. Apparently they made their choice,” said Doug Phillips, who organized the petition drive. “We got people more interested in city government now. Hopefully we can build on that.

    Both sides waged visible campaigns with lawn signs throughout the town. Proponents sent out mailed information and held public meetings. The City Council passed a resolution against the proposal and several city councilors urged no votes in the Voters Pamphlet. The monthly Jacksonville Review campaigned against the tax.

    Jacksonville Citizens for Public Safety Funding, which supported the tax, estimated it would spend about $3,000 on campaign efforts. Organized opponents said about $6,000 would be spent to get a no vote. The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association handled finances for the opponents and assisted in other ways with the campaign.

    The utility surcharge is anticipated to raise about $400,000 annually and will allow the city to shift money from the general fund previously used for police expenses to cover street repairs, parks, historical preservation and to build reserves.

    Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at

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