Bloomington: Proposed 1% food and beverage tax draws more criticism
By Rachel Bunn of the Bloomington Herald Times
SMITHVILLE — As the Monroe County Council continues deliberations on a possible 1 percent food and beverage tax, residents continue to ask why an expansion of the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center is necessary.
About 15 residents and all seven Monroe County Council members attended a public meeting in Smithville Tuesday to discuss the convention center expansion project.
Many of those residents are not convinced that the proposed convention center expansion is ready to move forward.
“We have a good place to live,” said Don Moore, who serves on the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission. “A good place to live does not necessarily equal a good place to visit.”
Moore noted that many other locations of convention centers around the state have other attractions that draw residents in, including several that have minor league sports teams or casinos. He asked why people would want to come to Bloomington to visit.
Convention center proponents countered that Bloomington was one of the most desirable places for visitors. Talisha Coppock, director of Downtown Bloomington Inc., said that many conventions had been making do with the current convention center, but needed more space.
The center has lost about 100 groups’ business since 2008, she said.
“We need to take advantage of where our strengths lie, and hospitality is one of our strengths,” Coppock said.
It’s estimated that a convention center expansion would create about 200 jobs for the community and that visitors spend about $233 per trip.
Moore said he would like to see opponents of the convention center and the proposed food and beverage tax be given the opportunity to present their case in the same way convention center proponents have.
Amy Jen, a Monroe County resident, said she knew why people were attracted to Bloomington, but she would like to see the process slowed down for the expansion and the tax, and really mulled over by the county council.
“The Chinese people really think and think and think before we do anything,” Jen said. “Americans say, ‘This is a great idea. Let’s do it!’”
Resident David Shuee made a similar statement.
“I think there’s a lot of things that we’re not seeing, that we’re not comfortable to say, ‘Let’s see a tax,’” Shuee said.
Money raised by the new tax would go toward the proposed expansion of the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center.
Collections would be split into two pots: money collected in the city of Bloomington would go into city coffers, and all other money raised in the county, including in Ellettsville and Stinesville, would go to county government.
Members of the county council stated early on in the discussion process that they would like to see an agreement between the city and the county in place, detailing how the money would be spent, before the council votes on the tax. The council discussed a draft agreement in April.
The initial draft discussed by the council included language that would guarantee the money go to the convention center bonds, should there be any, and included a sunset provision that would require the council to review the tax in five years if no bonds have been issued for the construction or renovation of the convention center.
Monroe County Council member Lee Jones said the council is really discussing two issues: the convention center expansion and the food and beverage tax. She did not necessarily think the two had to go together.
“I’m not convinced that the best thing to do to have a new convention center is to tax,” Jones said to a round of applause.
State legislation passed in 2009 allows the Monroe County Council to implement a 1 percent food and beverage tax on items bought in restaurants and bars. It would not apply to grocery purchases.