Restaurants Take City Council to Task on Meals Tax

Reporter: Mark Kelly l Videographer: Parker Slaybaugh

Lynchburg, VA - For the first time, Lynchburg restaurant owners went right to city council Tuesday to urge them not to increase the city's meals tax, saying it would not only be bad for their businesses but for the city too. Still, others say the money it would generate would be put to good use.

The restaurant community truly showed a united front Tuesday. For about 45 minutes, owners voiced their concerns over how increasing the meals tax could hurt their bottom lines.

"Don't increase this meals tax" said Debby Ruffin, owner of the James River Conference Center.

Owners say their restaurants are already running lean - and so are family budgets.

"There are a lot of challenges today with increased gas prices. And they sometimes all come on the same credit card. And people look what to cut and a lot of times that becomes going out to dinner," said Bob Plunkett, director of operations for Shaker's Restaurant Corporation.

Drew Austin, a Cracker Barrel employee, says don't tax food, tax lodging instead.

"It needs to be hotels or somewhere else. But singling out restaurants themselves as one entity of all the business in Lynchburg, it's not going to help us at all. It's not going to do anything good for the community itself," said Austin.

City Manager Kimball Payne says the tax will do Lynchburg good. The proposal on the table would raise the meals tax 1%, from 6.5% to 7.5%. The $1.7 million raised per year would help build a new Heritage High School.

Some residents support the tax.

"We can continue to stand strong as a city and not let our children down if we all make a very small sacrifice that will make such a big difference," said Catherine Mosley, a Lynchburg resident.

"I urge you to appropriately fund a quality educational system that prepares our youth for our community's future," said Jan Walker, a Centra employee.

But when the bill for education comes, restaurants don't want to be the only businesses paying up.

"I certainly understand the urgent need for action regarding Heritage High School. But I strongly disagree that raising meals taxes is the way to cover this expense," said Ruffin.

Restaurants also worry the tax will drive customers to eat in the nearby counties, where the meals tax is lower or non-existent. Council did not vote on this Tuesday. That will come with the rest of the budget in May.