On Nov. 5, Shenandoah County voters will decide if we will share responsibility for funding public safety and school system capital improvement projects with county visitors.
Residents shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for funding local services through real estate and personal property taxes (67% of total revenue). The meals tax is one way to diversify the revenue stream and have that responsibility shared by people who dine at eateries in the county, including travelers and tourists. Tourism is the second leading industry in the county and visitors spent an average of $632,784 per day during 2018.
Of the options we have for generating revenue, the meals tax is the one most likely to be paid by non-residents who also benefit from county services.
Surrounding counties and our towns collect hundreds of thousands of dollars to over a million dollars annually from meals taxes.
Page County collects $300,000 annually and doesn't have the benefit of Interstate 81 passing through it. In fiscal year 2020, the county Capital Improvement Plan has almost $500,000 in equipment and vehicle needs for the Sheriff's Office and fire and rescue. The school system has at least $1 million in CIP needs annually.
I think we can all agree that providing for safety and education of our kids are services we value, and that funding a portion of those needs from revenue other than real estate taxes benefits us.
We don't know how much revenue a meals tax will generate. We do know $500,000 in equipment and vehicle needs don't go away.
The $400,000 ambulance replacement needed in fiscal year 2021 doesn't go away.
Schools will still need critical components replaced and upgraded to provide safe, reliable buildings for our kids.
The question to ask on Nov. 5 is not "Do I want a 4% meals tax?"
The questions are: "Do I want to see the responsibility to maintain our public safety and public education services shared among residents and county visitors? Do I want those visitors and travelers who benefit from our public services to share in the responsibility of supporting and funding those services?"
For me, the answer is yes.
Seth Coffman, Quicksburg