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Selectmen mulling over optional meals tax

Date: 1/18/2010

Jan. 18, 2010

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM - The Wilbraham Board of Selectmen will soon have a decision to make on whether or not the town can adopt the optional meals tax.

The selectmen hosted an informal hearing to gather input from residents and restaurant owners during their Jan. 11 meeting. The purpose of the hearing was to determine if the tax option was something they should pursue and place on the warrant for this spring's Annual Town Meeting.

The local option tax can only be imposed with approval of the Town Meeting.

The state legislature voted this summer to allow municipalities to increase the meals tax, imposing an additional .75 percent on the state's rate of 6.25 percent. The additional .75 percent will come back to each city or town that adopts it as new revenue. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) projects that the optional tax could generate roughly $110,000 annually for Wilbraham.

The new tax would add 75 cents in tax to a meal tab of $100. To some, though, the small amount would be a big deal.

"The tax is only a little bit ... but I'm sick of getting taxed," resident Harry Setien told the selectmen. "I know this could bring in $100,000 but ... I don't want to see it."

Resident Dave Sanders added that by not adopting the tax, the town could send a signal that it does not increase taxes just because it can.

Several restaurant owners who attended the meeting also spoke out against the tax.

"People don't understand it's not the restaurant raising taxes, it's the government," Alex Bresezkin, owner of Abruzzo on Boston Road, said. "Wilbraham is a community that is very controlling of what they spend. I think the community can find other [revenue] sources."

Bruce Melikian, co-owner of Horizons on Boston Road, stated that although the tax doesn't represent a lot of money, it will add up.

"It's not a matter of one restaurant against another [vying for patronage]. It's a matter of people going out against people staying home," he added. "This [the tax] will be one more excuse to not go out."

Representatives from local chambers of commerce spoke out against the adoption of the tax as well.

"The town could use the money but small business owners could too," Russell Denver, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, noted.

Terry Nelson of the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce, added, "It's not the small amount of money involved, it's about being an attractive community for new business. The local chamber does not support this tax."

There were a few supporters of the optional tax at the hearing, including resident John Broderick, who noted that he tends to dine out often.

"There will be $110,000 that will come back from this that we can use," Broderick said. "It's a no-brainer."

Police Officer Edward Lennon added that as a town employee, he sees the increased revenue from the tax as something the town "could really use."

The selectmen made no motion on placing the tax adoption on the warrant for Town Meeting at this hearing, but will make a decision in the future.

According to the DOR, 13 towns in western Hampden County, including Springfield and Palmer, have adopted the meals tax.