Should Southborough implement a local meals tax (like surrounding towns)?

by beth on January 3, 2014

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At their December 17th meeting, the Board of Selectmen discussed the possibility of a meals tax. It’s not something currently scheduled for a vote, just something they may consider in future.

The topic came up during the fiscal year audit as they discussed funding of OPEB (other post employment benefits). Treasurer Mark Ballentine adressed Selectmen’s question of how other towns are handling the expense. Ballentine pointed out that Northborough’s recently implemented Meals Tax is one of the ways they found a revenue stream.

Chairman Dan Kolenda remarked that he would rather find a savings stream than impose a tax “that rolls into the cost of the meal”. Selectman Bill Boland says that he’s always voted against it in the past. He now thinks they should consider it “as we are starting to become the only town that doesn’t do that.”

Boland informed Kolenda that Marlborough just voted it in the night before. Kolenda quipped, “The good folks from Marlborough will come to Southborough to dine.” That was the end of their discussion.

I looked into the subject.

Ashland, Northborough,Westborough, Framingham and Shrewsbury had already approved the 0.75% local tax to raise the total meals tax up to 7%.

Marlborough was the last standing neighbor. The Marlborough Patch reports that before voting on the tax, a City Councilor claimed to have received 130 letters in favor (including from restaurants) and only 3 opposed.

It made me wonder, does a 0.75% tax make a difference in people’s behavior?

(Remember, it’s the difference of 75ยข per $100.)

For some people any tax is infuriating. But this is also the state that voted not to lower the recently increased sales tax.

Would adding an additional tax, no matter how small, outrage you? Or do you think that it would be a useful revenue stream?

Does knowing that surrounding towns have a meal tax but we don’t impact your choice on where you eat?

And how much revenue difference would it make in a town with only 22 eateries – most of them primarily for take-out? (I can only think of 3 with a wait staff.)

(Image posted to Flickr by Robert S. Donovan)

1 Southsider January 4, 2014 at 9:47 AM

$0.75 per $100 seems unlikely to be a factor in anyone’s dining decision.
Did the BoS have any estimate on the amount of revenue that would provide?

If we’re racking up large future debts without having something in place to anticipate and pay for those debts, then it’s time to start taking some action.
And maybe BoS should have spent a bit more time on this subject before releasing almost a million dollars to fund a town cable tv station!

2 Neil Rossen January 4, 2014 at 9:50 AM

Predictably, as you’d expect, I am against any tax increase. It’s about time we had a nationwide reduction in state and government expenditure. We need money to go into the private economy not any government economy where the waste cannot be contained. Taxes simply provide fodder for politicians to favor their causes or for union members to achieve their compensation goals.

3 Parent January 4, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Tax me.

4 Al Hamilton January 5, 2014 at 10:19 AM

Nothing is preventing you from writing a check to the Town Of Southborough for any amount that you wish. I am certain it will be gratefully accepted.

However, in my opinion, our personal ability to pay a tax should not be the standard to be applied in levying a tax.

I believe that the proper standard is to be able to stand in front of a senior citizen living on a fixed income or a single parent struggling to make ends meet and say to that person “This public need is so compelling that it justifies forcing you to hand over more of your limited income for public benefit”. If you are unable to do this then the case for a tax is not made.

5 Parent January 5, 2014 at 2:15 PM

I was being facetious. In MA, we have a state meal tax (which I agree with), so I am wondering why the towns are adding their own tax charge. I think it’s because the towns probably need the money. Don’t know if that’s the best way to go about it, or not.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind paying a small meal tax if I ever ate out in Southborough. My family usually eats at home, because going out is so expensive. So I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about a Southborough meals tax.

6 Barb Black January 4, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Our 2014 Southborough Property Tax bill arrived in the mail today. GASP! (And I hear we “ain’t seen nothin’ yet”.) Will a meals tax even make a dent?

7 Frank Crowell January 4, 2014 at 1:05 PM

I will favor a new tax when all town and state employees are transferred to a 401K type retirement plan – which is the same as saying I will never support a new tax.

Tip of the cap to Mr Kolenda. I had almost given up on him.

8 JG January 5, 2014 at 3:23 PM

This needs to happen! It’s the only responsible thing any politician can do to stop the tax payers from bearing relentless increases.

9 Al Hamilton January 4, 2014 at 2:24 PM

In Mass. the answer to every public problem is for the government to reach further into our pockets and hoover up any spare change that can be found.

There are other viable options that include:

1. Raising retirement ages and changes to length of service requirements.

2. Reforming public contracting practices

3. Making privatization of public services easier.

4. Consolidating municipal facilities and selling off the surplus.

Taxes should be the last resort not the first solution to every problem.

10 Resident January 5, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Maybe if there was a good restaurant in town???

11 Pat Q. January 6, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Although I disagree with another tax, no matter how small, it probably makes more sense for our neighbors to use this as an additional income stream as they have many more establishments to consider. Would adding this tax to our establishments really even make a dent in funding the OPED? In doing so we continue to foster the knee jerk reaction of adding taxes instead of making the perhaps difficult but necessary decisions that Al outlined above.

Overall, I disagree with yet another tax, no matter how small.

12 SB Resident January 7, 2014 at 11:06 AM

This isn’t an issue of another tax, it is an issue of fairness. When surrounding communities institute what is mostly a non-resident tax, they are basically “taking” from the surrounding towns. Anyway, Mr Boland is right, if everyone does it so must we or else we are just hurting ourselves. It isn’t really a new tax if we don’t increase our spending, our property taxes should adjust accordingly as we are just recouping our money.

13 Pat Q. January 10, 2014 at 7:49 AM

Exactly my point; “it is an issue of fairness”……..stop taxing us.

It would be more fair if we addressed the real issues and not look towards taxpayers for a band-aid approach to fund post employment benefits.

14 Think about this !!! January 7, 2014 at 2:36 PM

I find interesting that almost all commenters are against new taxes, even a small one like this meal tax, yet when we vote to $pend ten$ of million$ of dollar$ at Town Meeting, for which we all must pay, almost no one shows up to make cuts. Why is that?

15 Neil Rossen January 7, 2014 at 3:12 PM

Frankly, I gave up. T he school has a lot of vested attendees who attend. And then there are school and town employees. And yes, folks don’t show up. They have kids and real 9-5 jobs. And they don’t enjoy relatively short work days and long holidays. The current TM format is superannuated. I believe shrewsbury is exploring electronic voting. If we ever do that and taxes are raised through a vote, I can live with that. Right now I believe we have in reality a very limited democracy.

16 Southville January 7, 2014 at 3:28 PM

My general impression is that those who are opposed to new taxes/revenue tend to have very strong feelings about it, and thus have strong incentive to vocalize those feelings. I don’t think the people who support more taxes and revenue for government have as strong feelings. Or at least not the type of feelings/personal investment that would make them join in debates like this very often. I’m not sure that applies everywhere, but at least in town it does. As you noted comments here are often anti-tax/anti-revenue/anti-government, but when it comes time to vote, people generally are supportive of giving the town the revenue it asks for.

For what it’s worth, I’d be more than happy to support this new tax. It doesn’t seem to put much of a burden on anyone, and those folks in town who are having tough times aren’t likely the ones who would spend a lot of money eating out anyway.

17 Resident January 8, 2014 at 10:40 AM

The first fact is that there is a small group of people who post frequently on this site about issues with taxes. The second fact is that group does not reflect the views of the majority that vote at town meeting. Opinions of the posters here are not necessarily reflective of opinions of most of the town population. This is just a blog and not everyone in town reads it or is even aware of it.

18 Publius January 7, 2014 at 5:02 PM

Just because other towns do it is not a reason at all to do it. Its not the .75 cent per $100. Its all the other taxes, real estate, income, sales, fuel tax that increase this past year alone. Not to mention a panaolpy of federal income tax increases. The two wrong answers 1) its only,..2) everyone else is doing it. Both anwers are devoid of honesty and intellectual rigor.

19 SB Resident January 8, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Actually number two is using intellectual rigor as it is a principle of cash flow. We as a town end up paying more tax in the end by paying taxes to our surrounding towns. Implementing this tax helps us recoup that tax by taxing their residents who dine in our eateries. If we don’t implement any new spending, it is not really a new tax, it is just shifting how the taxes are collected and it was simply forced onto us by the other towns. If we don’t do it, we are the losers. Sticking up for principles without using intellectual rigor is the problem.

20 Think about this!!! January 7, 2014 at 8:19 PM

Your cop out is the same one we all hear while sitting around a coffee shop in town, and is as old as they come. When you ask the person complaining about the high cost of schools or the high cost of anything that going to increase their taxes you hear,
“the meeting is stacked, the employees flood the meeting, and on and on.” Have you checked lately as to how many employees of the town live in town.
When is the last time we saw a tax payers group working at a town meeting? To my knowledge we the tax payers out number them by a whole lot.

21 Neil Rossen January 8, 2014 at 8:51 AM

Have you noted how few people attend TM? It is likely for the reasons I mentioned. If we have 200 attendees it’s a lot. The town has over 8000 people. I tried to get a taxpayer group together years ago. There were over 30 on an email list. That is not a cop out . I suggest that motions at TM that pass may not necessarily reflect the views of the town population. That is why I would fully accept the motions were there electronic voting.

22 Tom Marcoulier January 7, 2014 at 9:12 PM

Beth, You mentioned 22 eateries with 3 having wait staff. Would it be possible to name some? My count doesn’t come close. Thanks Tom

23 beth January 8, 2014 at 7:51 AM

I did yellow pages search for Southborough restaurants. The list was longer than I expected. But it includes Dunkin Donuts, Red Barn Coffee, pizza places, sandwich places, etc. I should change that to 21, as one seems inaccurate.

24 daddyo January 9, 2014 at 1:16 PM

If we are not going to implement a town sales tax for meals we should find a way of advertising this fact to our neighbors. although it doesn’t amount to much money. people in general don’t like paying taxes. this is evident by the fact that if stores advertise a sale offering 10% off store wide it doesn’t get a lot of attention. If the state offers a sales tax free day people are climbing over each other to make their purchases. that 6.25% tax seems to be much more important. maybe we could bring more local business our way by pointing out this fact to our surrounding neighbors. I am just not sure the best way to get the word out.

25 beth January 9, 2014 at 2:47 PM

An FYI on topic. Yesterday, I had lunch in Northborough. I noticed that the bill lists tax without any % or breakdown.

I’m sure that no one looking at a bill can tell whether it’s 6.25% or 7%. (My phone said 7%.) So, to your point I’m sure most people don’t know when or where they are being taxed more.

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