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Downtown Geneva association urges support for .5% sales tax referendum

Voters asked to attend 2 community forums on sales tax question

GENEVA – The Geneva Food and Beverage Association is hosting two community forums about the 0.5 percent sales tax increase referendum on the March 20 ballot.

One forum is at 7 p.m. March 6 at the American Legion Post 75, 22 S. Second St., Geneva.

A second forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 13 at Wildwood Restaurant, 477 S. Third St., Geneva.

When the Geneva City Council voted to put the referendum on the ballot, it also voted to enact a 2 percent Places for Eating Tax to go into effect May 1 if the sales tax referendum does not pass.

Officials said the city needs the additional revenue to pay for capital projects and core services.

Al Buchanan, owner of Geneva Wine Cellars and Tasting Room and a director of the association, said it was important that voters support the sales tax referendum, which would keep Geneva at a competitive sales tax rate of 8 percent.

“We believe that the citizens of Geneva should come out and hear our elected leaders explain their needs for additional funding to run the government,” Buchanan said.

“We have met with the mayor and City Council over many, many months. They repeatedly expressed the need for funds for capital expenditures and to continue to provide basic services, and [the] public should hear the same things we heard at meetings.”

Members of the Geneva City Council will be available at both forums to answer questions from the public.

Buchanan said if Geneva needs additional funding to keep the community vibrant, then the burden should be through a citywide sales tax increase, rather than by a food and beverage tax.

The restaurant tax, which is a pass-through tax on customers, would raise an estimated $1.5 million per year, city officials said. The half-percent sales tax would raise about $2 million, but 2 percent of what the city collects would go to the state, officials said.

“The burden should be borne equally,” Buchanan said. “A half-percent sales tax rather than singling out the food and beverage industry at quadruple that amount. Especially on an industry that is struggling at the moment.”

Buchanan said employees would bear the brunt of a Places for Eating Tax as they are largely low-wage workers who depend on tips, as customers will reduce the amount they leave as tips if they have to pay 2 percent more on the restaurant and bar tabs.

“This would penalize these low-paid hardworking people such as the ones we depend on to provide services to our customers,” Buchanan said.

City officials were required to put the sales tax question on the ballot because Geneva is not a home-rule community. However, state law allows municipalities to enact a Places for Eating Tax regardless of whether it is home rule or not, officials said.

Buchanan said he disagrees with the idea that a vote against the referendum is a vote in favor of the restaurant tax.

“The fair thing to do was to put both taxes on the referendum and let the public decide,” Buchanan said.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said he would not go over the same issues again with regard to the sales tax referendum and the Places for Eating Tax.

“My focus is squarely on the upcoming referendum, not rehashing topics that have already been discussed and decided as a result of countless private and public meetings,” Burns said.

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