By: Selectman Tracy Watson – November, 2011
On Tuesday November 15th North Andover will be conducting a Special Town Meeting. Among the articles on the warrant is Article 9 (Local Options Meal Tax). This article would add an additional .75% tax on top of the current 6.25% tax bringing the overall tax on food and beverages to 7%.
While the proponents of this initiative would lead you to believe that this tax will not really affect anyone, that message simply is not true. If passed this new tax will affect almost every single food establishment in North Andover and in turn every single customer they have.
Proponents of this tax will also tell you about neighbors in the Merrimack Valley who have adopted The Local Options Meal Tax already. But what they leave out of the conversation is that our neighbors who have enacted this tax have done so because they were facing bleak circumstances and draconian cuts were being proposed to balance their budgets. North Andover on the other hand has been able to avoid any cuts to services and have experienced no lay-offs all while balancing our budget without having to place this burdensome tax on our restaurant businesses.
Many other communities in Massachusetts have also adopted this optional tax. However this tax has been most attractive to communities with high tourist and commuter traffic, where community leaders can claim that most of the revenue actually flows from out of town people, therefore placing less of the burden on local residents.
Joseph O’Brien, the Mayor of Worcester was recently quoted as saying, “We have a lot of visitors and 30,000 college students with a good bit of discretionary income. “ Can we say the same for North Andover? If not then who will this burden fall to?
More troublesome than the burden it places on local restaurants and residents though is the lack of solid accurate figures. The Department of Revenue projects that North Andover would receive $413,000 each year if this measure is adopted but in many cities and towns where this measure has already been adopted they are quickly finding out that the DOR projections are not totally accurate.
For instance, in the first six months of 2011 Fall River saw more than 38% less than DOR projected, Westport saw a 60% difference and New Bedford received 40% less than expected. Our own neighbor Lawrence had numbers come in 25% less in actual over projected revenues. In these uncertain economic times it is fiscally dangerous for North Andover to depend on consumer dollars not yet spent.
I also feel that very important points are being lost in the mix of this debate. What is being forgotten is that our restaurants, pubs, bakeries, donut shops, pizza shops and on and on already are contributing at a higher rate to our community. Currently residents have a tax rate of $13.52 per thousand while our businesses pay $18.63 per thousand.
More importantly than the fact that our businesses are paying a higher rate for their properties is the fact that they also bring jobs to our community. Noteworthy as well is that they are quite willing to support our schools, our sports teams, associations and our non-profits with donations of not only product but financially as well. These establishments are true partners with North Andover. They are an integral part of our community.
Even if you wish to believe that this tax will not really hurt anyone and that it will not cost the individual consumer all that much you must accept the fact that it will transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars from the private sector to the public sector. In these fiscally fragile times for all small businesses why would we want more money leaving them? In particular while North Andover seems to be in the middle of a restaurant boon?
North Andover has been holding our own and increasing our tax base with numerous restaurants and other businesses locating within our borders. More are in the pipeline for 2012. I see this tax as one that discourages business. Let alone the fact that it unfairly targets one business population. Which in and of itself begs the question…who’s next?
This initiative is called the Local “Options” Meals Tax because the folks have an option. I view this option as a lifeline that North Andover should again hold off on implementing unless we find ourselves in the same dire situation as our neighbors found themselves in when they adopted it.
Because of these reasons and so many others I ask you to join me in voting NO on Article 9 at North Andover’s Special Town Meeting on November 15th at 7:00 p.m. at North Andover High School.