Ashland voters to decide how food & beverage tax will be distributed

The Ashland City Council deliberates at Tuesday's business meeting.
July 23, 2022

Charter amendment would keep same rate, extend term 10 years, allow other fund uses   

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Voters in Ashland will be able to expand allowable uses of funds raised via the city’s 5% food and beverage tax, which will be sent to the November ballot following Tuesday night’s Ashland City Council meeting. The tax, under the referendum would last through at least 2040. It’s currently set to expire in 2030.

City Councilors voted 4-2 to refer the food and beverage tax amendment to the ballot, as recommended by City Manager Joe Lessard to broaden the use of the tax to include the general fund. Under the proposal being sent to voters, 25% would continue to go to parks, with 73% going toward other general fund uses, which could include police and fire. The remaining 2% would continue to go to administrative costs. Currently the 73& portion is designated for street repairs. Councilors Stefani Seffinger and Shaun Moran were the dissenting voters. 

“Anytime you have a revenue source which is flexible and can be used … you have a broad discretion of how you can apply it to serve the citizens,” Lessard said. “The more flexibility you have built into your funding program, the more predictable it is under certain circumstances.”

Councilors engaged an extended discussion regarding the lifespan of the tax, with some promoting the lifespan of the tax to last through 2030 while others asking for the tax to be adopted in perpetuity. 

Councilor Paula Hyatt made the motion and Councilor Stephen Jensen seconded the motion to extend the tax’s lifespan to 2040.

Councilor Tonya Graham agreed, stressing that the tax isn’t “new money” and that it isn’t a new funding source.

“We right now have a base budget that does not adequately take care of our parks,” Graham said.

Graham said the 2040 lifespan of the Food & Beverage tax provides flexibility and provides more time for short-term programs.

“It gives us a 17-year term, which is much more consistent,” Graham said.

Councilor Seffinger emphasized her concerns about securing long-term funding of parks prior to making her vote.

“I feel historically that Parks has taken the hit,” Seffinger said. “I think they’re an important part of our economic well-being.”

Councilor Moran voted no on the item. He also shared his thoughts on the current use of the tax and the tax itself.

“We need to give the citizens of Ashland the benefit of the doubt and ask them if they really want it,” Moran said. “I’m not convinced they do. It’s not their fault that our city has become addicted to this revenue stream, quite frankly.”

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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