Sunday, July 01, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Don't rush 'burger tax'

People supposedly don’t notice the tax they pay when they go to a restaurant, which is one of the reasons a Jacksonville alderman is pushing to add a two-cent levy to prepared foods—and that adage may be correct.

The city is considering spending upwards of half-a-million dollars to bring in more tourists. But it will take an awful lot of visitors to recover that kind of an investment, so city fathers should examine the proposal very carefully before they act on it.

Jacksonville’s advertising and promotion commission, which often meets without notifying the media, in violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, is now on a charm offensive and wants the city to approve the two-cent tax—and no vote of the people is necessary—to generate every year about $275,000 for promotion and marketing of the city, and about another $163,000 to the parks and recreation department. The commission has slated $20,000 to increase promotion for the Fourth of July patriotic spectacular and allow for a bigger fireworks show.

The Reed’s Bridge Battlefield group will get $12,000 to buy Civil War displays and make other improvements to the site to bring in tourists.

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History will receive $22,000 of the new money to help get the necessary permission to display static aircraft and to help toward the purchase of an aircraft, while just $10,000 would go to the city’s annual Wing Ding festival.

The liberty show, museum and Civil War site already get a portion of the $88,000 the advertising and promotion commission is collecting through a hotel tax.

The commission will also set aside $30,000 of the tax for projects, requests and ideas that come up during the year that are not already budgeted.

Another $18,000 will be used to help pay for the staff to coordinate and collect the tax data, staff training and educating businesses and the public on what types of items are taxable.

The supporters of these projects, however worthwhile, could find private funds to promote the museum, battlefield and patriotic spectacular. Jacksonville has more pressing needs right now: It should spend money to erase urban blight, build better roads, replace crumbling schools, fill empty storefronts, not to mention work on raising its stagnant population count, which has hardly budged in 20 years.

The board of directors of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce has asked the city council to weigh all options before approving a hamburger tax. A full hearing next Thursday evening should bring out a large crowd at city hall. Let your views be heard.