Meals tax referendum considered

Published 5:02 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2019

A portion of the May work session for the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors was devoted to discussion of a meals tax referendum to place on the November election ballot.
By definition, a referendum is; “the principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or by popular initiative.”

Upon request of the board, the staff set about determining the methods by which a meals tax referendum could be put on the ballot. According to May 8 regular meeting records, there are two ways to achieve the board’s request: “1. A citizen can collect the required number of signatures on a petition that a vote be placed on the ballot; or 2. The board of supervisors may adopt a resolution instructing the county attorney to draft a court order to place this on the ballot.”

Currently, a meals tax is only charged at establishments operating within the corporate limits of the towns within Charlotte County.

According to staff recommendation to the board, “… a meals tax outside a town’s limit provides the opportunity to spread the county’s tax burden to those travelling through the county if and when they choose to eat at one of the county’s food establishments. Because of this benefit, staff would support such a recommendation, but it is ultimately up to the citizens.”
The action requested is that a motion be made that the board of supervisors adopt a “… Meals Tax Resolution authorizing the county attorney to petition the circuit court to order a referendum on the question of whether to levy a tax not to exceed 4 percent on food and beverages”

According to the draft resolution, Virginia Code Annotated § 58.1-3833 permits the board to pass the resolution according to requested action furthering that the referendum be voted on at a special or regular election on the question of a meals tax.

The final paragraph of the resolution states that the reason behind the proposed meals tax is to “… support government services to include school and capital projects.”

Working against formidable odds, the county administrator, staff and board of supervisors succeeded in achieving a balanced 2019-2020 budget, due in largest part by the implementation of a proposed sizable tax increase. As it is advertised, the tax increase would be distributed over both real estate and personal property tax and it will effectively offset the enormous burden of debt service that the county is obligated to pay for the upcoming fiscal year.

Next year, however, looks to present more challenges.

The board still faces the inevitability of accruing additional debt service to funding sourced in order to finish Phase II of the Bacon and Phenix School projects and any future capital improvement projects as they may arise.

According to County Administrator Daniel Witt, as a source of revenue, a countywide meals tax has unrealized potential.

“We just don’t know what (revenue) it can bring to the county,” he said. “I do know that, as a Campbell County taxpayer, soon to be a Charlotte County taxpayer, I voted for it every time it showed up on a ballot because I realized that it did help to bring revenue from outside in and it helped to spread out the tax burden. Town eating establishments already charge it.”