Increased Meals Tax Proposed to Close School Budget Gap

November 2, 2012

Public schools in Charlottesville are facing a multi-million dollar deficit, and one of city council's possible solutions could take a bite out of your wallet.

Council members are considering raising the four percent meals tax to five or six percent.

Most of the cash would go toward schools, but vice mayor Kristin Szakos said, if it's done right, the tax could end up benefitting restaurants.

Szakos said the idea came out of a similar tax increase and simultaneous marketing campaign in Roanoke a few years ago.

The push -- when you dine at local restaurants, you're helping local schools.

"The hope would be that, if we did a similar marketing campaign here, people would choose to eat out in Charlottesville in order to support the schools."

Szakos said Roanoke restaurants increased their revenue after upping the tax.

"The nice thing about a meals tax is that it's a voluntary tax," Szakos said. "Very few people have to eat out all the time."

But some people think restaurants are an unfair target.

"They know everybody has to eat," said Jonathan Clark, assistant manager at Charlottesville restaurant Jak 'n Jil. "They ought to put [the tax] on clothes and everything else, too."

Leslie Good has been traveling from Scottsville to eat at Jak 'n Jil for years. She said restaurants are an easy target because many of them have had the same customers for decades, unlikely to change their ways after a small increase. Good said any tax hike of less than five percent would not affect her decision to dine within city limits.

While diners would bear the brunt of the budget deficit, Szakos said the proposal could be a win-win for the school system and local restaurants.

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