Shenandoah County voters could decide Tuesday if they want supervisors to create a tax on food and beverages served outside of the towns.
A referendum question on the election ballot asks voters in each of the county’s six magisterial districts if the Board of Supervisors should add a levy on prepared food and beverages sold by certain businesses located in the county.
The tax, if endorsed by a majority of voters and adopted by the Board of Supervisors, could affect more than 30 businesses in the county outside the six towns. Businesses required to collect the tax from patrons and pass along the amounts to the county could include eateries, cafes, farm markets, breweries, wineries, stores and truck stops that sell food and beverages.
Nathan Pence co-owns Wholesome Foods Deli and Butcher Shop in the Edinburg area with his brother. The business, in operation since 1964, includes a sandwich shop they opened in 1990. Pence said by phone recently he would not support a meals tax.
“I don’t think I’d like it,” Pence said. “We gotta figure out other ways to get revenue.”
The business serves customers from around the area as well as those traveling through the county, Pence said.
Wolf Gap Vineyard & Winery operates in the county north of Edinburg. Wolf Gap owner Willard Elledge said recently he was not aware of the proposed meals tax.
“So you’re collecting sales tax, so why a new tax?” Elledge asked.
“I mean, I hate these politicians that they want to tax everything and I am dead-set against it,” Elledge said. “The county and the state and the feds, they not only want to take our money but they want us to collect their tax for ‘em.
“They already have a mechanism for collecting property tax,” Elledge went on to say. “That’s where they get most of their revenue ... You implement a new tax and it requires a whole new bureaucracy, a whole new system of collecting and reporting it. I’m against it 100 percent.”
Several supervisors have said the county needs to educate the public about the proposed meals tax. Members have discussed the topic at meetings. District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris held an informational meeting on the meals tax in Toms Brook in October.
Deputy County Administrator Mandy Belyea responded by email when asked if the county would inform business owners about the meals tax.
“If the voters of Shenandoah County elect to institute a meals tax, specific information pertaining to the tax and its collection would be disseminated to those impacted businesses accordingly,” Belyea stated in the email.
Voters can read the referendum question on a handout the county plans to provide at the polling locations Tuesday. County Administrator Evan Vass said in his weekly memo on the county’s website that the handout now states: “If approved, the meals tax would be in addition to the 5.3% sales tax rate imposed on the sale of prepared meals.”
The referendum question on the ballot asks: “Should a meals tax of up to 4% on food and beverages sold by a restaurant be levied in Shenandoah County in order to fund education and public safety capital projects?” The second part states: “If this food and beverage tax is adopted and a maximum tax rate of 4% is imposed, then the total tax imposed on all prepared food and beverage shall be 9.3%.”
The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce and the Shenandoah County School Board, with an adopted resolution, have voiced support for the tax, touted as a potential revenue source to help ease the burden on property owners. At the Economic Development Council Breakfast, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, 131 people of the 149 members in attendance said in an anonymous poll they support a meals tax.
Opponents of the tax, such as the Shenandoah County Republican Party, claim the tax would hurt not only customers, many of whom live in the county, but also put the extra burden on businesses by requiring owners to keep track of the meals tax collected. Supporters refute the argument that a meals tax would put a burden on businesses. Supporters also have claimed that opponents, primarily the Republican Party, have tried to either confuse or misinform the public about the proposed tax in an effort to sway voters to vote against the referendum.
The tax would not apply to food and beverages sold in the corporate limits of any of the six towns in the county. Towns already charge the tax.
State code allows counties to impose a meals tax up to 4% per $1 of sales. State code requires counties that want to create a meals tax to first put the question on an election ballot as a referendum. The Board of Supervisors must then hold a public hearing on any proposed meals tax before taking action to either adopt or turn down the levy. If approved and set, the county would require businesses to collect the meals tax — often referred to as a pass-through or user tax — and submit the amounts to the Treasurer’s Office.
Supervisors have discussed the proposed meals tax several times this year. County Administrator Evan Vass made a formal presentation to board members. Supervisors ultimately voted 5-1 to ask a circuit court judge to order that the question be placed on the election ballots as a referendum. District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker voted against the motion to forward the request to the court. Walker said he would not support a targeted tax.
Should a majority of the voters show they support the tax, supervisors would not take action until next year. The board membership is expected to change Jan. 1. District 2 Supervisor Steven Baker, who has voiced support for a meals tax, will remain on the board because he is running unopposed. Walker and Chairman Conrad Helsley are not running for re-election and their terms expire Dec. 31. Former Strasburg Mayor and county school employee Timothy Taylor is running unopposed for Helsley’s seat representing District 6 on the board. District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese said in an email Friday he would support a meals tax if voters endorse the referendum.
Taylor stated his position on the meals tax in an email Friday.
“This is a voter decision,” Taylor said. “If they want it then I support that decision.”
Bradley Pollack and F. Coe Sherrard are vying for Walker’s District 3 seat. Pollack said at a recent candidates forum he does not support a meals tax. Sherrard has said that he, as a candidate for the board seat, has not taken a position on the proposed tax as a ballot measure left up to the voters to decide. Sherrard said as a voter he does support a meals tax.