Referendum to determine fate of proposed 2% restaurant tax in Charleston

By CLAY MCFERRIN,

Are Charleston residents willing to pay 2% more for hamburgers, fried chicken and sweet tea to help finance youth recreation programs in the city?

That is the gist of a March 3 special election open to all registered voters in the municipality.

During the referendum, citizens of Charleston will have the opportunity to weigh in on the levying of a 2% sales tax on locally prepared foods and beverages sold at retail to the public.

Polls March 3 will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., and polling places will be those utilized for city commissioner elections. Voters will cast a paper ballot marked “for the tax” or “against the tax.”

The measure must garner the support of 60% of March 3 voters in order to pass.

Restaurants and other outlets, such as convenience stores with a delicatessen that prepares food and beverages on the premises, would be subject to the 2% tax. It would be assessed in addition to the usual 7% state sales tax.

For instance, a $1 hamburger that now costs $1.07 would cost $1.09 with the new tax tacked on.

Authority for the 2% tax comes from Senate Bill 2854, introduced last year by District 14 state Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona.

Charleston Mayor Sedrick Smith said city officials sought the counsel of Chassaniol and Democratic state Rep. Tommy Reynolds, who also is city attorney, about ways to generate funds to benefit local youth without raising property taxes.

The restaurant tax is becoming increasingly utilized around the state, the mayor noted Tuesday.

Smith, who said officials have not yet projected the amount of revenue the proposed tax might bring in, noted that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department would be the primary beneficiary.

He envisions a summer youth program sponsored by the city, facilitating youth baseball, basketball and football games, as well as tournaments that would attract visitors to Charleston.

“They’re our future, so we definitely want to get our youth involved,” Smith said.

To lay out details of the 2% plan, the mayor said a town hall style meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 20, at 6 p.m., in the courtroom at City Hall.

“That will let us introduce this process to the citizens leading up to the election date,” Smith noted. ... “If they have questions or input, that would be the time” to express them.