Strasburg restaurant owners criticize meal tax increase

STRASBURG – Local restaurant owners voiced their concerns to Town Council on Monday over a proposed 1 percent meal tax hike and its effects on both their businesses and the town itself.

The local business owners offered their opinions during the public hearing of a town council work session, most speaking in reference to the council’s proposed meal tax.

Randall Hamman owns the Hangouts Grill on Brandy Court in Strasburg. He said he expects the tax to have more of an effect on locals – the main source of his revenue in slow tourism months – than the council might expect

“One percent is a big deal in the food business,” Hamman said. “It’s taking local people out of our doors.”

Alongside his concerns on the meal tax, Hamman said the budget is too vague as to what exactly the town’s money is being spent on and why the increases are necessary.

Agreeing with Hamman, Wendy Willis, co-owner of Cristina’s Cafe, said it’s not fair to place the entire burden of a necessary levy on the restaurant industry.

“I really think that if the town of Strasburg is looking to raise a tax, it should be egalitarian and it should be levied on all businesses, not just on food and lodging,” Willis said.

Following her point on spreading the tax around, Willis added that restaurants already pay a 3 percent fee to accept credit cards, along with the existing meal tax and the cost of filling out meal tax reports every month, and they do not need any more of a fiscal burden.

Others not directly involved in the restaurant business spoke up as well. John Massoud, a Strasburg resident, said he believes the tax increase will end up decreasing the town’s revenue, not increasing it, as potential diners forgo the luxury of eating out when they account for the increased cost of a meal.

Part of the problem, said Strasburg resident Cindy Racey, is the fact that area residents are invited to offer opinions so late in the process. She said their concerns and suggestions should have been heeded while the council formed the budget, not in the final minutes before its passage.

“There’s got to be a better process to get the people who are paying this money more involved,” she said.

After the meeting, Strasburg Mayor Timothy Taylor said he’s not sure whether or not the council will make any changes before it approves the budget next Tuesday. He added that he knew the council would take some heat for the taxes, and that the council will consider the opinions shared at the meeting. At the end of the day, however, there are bills to pay.

“The bottom line is that we have things we have to pay for,” Taylor said. “We want a solution that won’t hurt everyone, and will put most the burden on tourists.”

The council meets to finalize and approve the budget at 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday in the Council Chambers of Strasburg Town Hall at 174 E. King St. The meeting will be open to the public.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or