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City’s restaurant tax still a very bad idea

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Conway proven right on lowering speed limit

By Ben Carlson

Publisher

Column as I see ’em …

The old saw that when the cat’s away the mice will play is sadly all too true.

After spending years beating back the misguided notion that taxing restaurants will somehow attract tourists — who doesn’t want to pay more for food? — those bent on some kind of a weird restaurant tax caliphate quickly got up to their old tricks not long after I left this job in February for one in New Mexico.

That the restaurant tax reared its ugly head several months ago was bad enough but it’s even worse that the city council blessed that idea by budgeting $100,000 to make it happen.

That’s fairly brassy for a bunch that sings the praises of economic development but has alligator arms when it comes to funding it.

Most embarrassing, though, is that this newspaper actually came out in favor of the idea, although I could smell the self-serving stench of that clear out in the New Mexico high desert.

Thankfully, Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway and the fiscal court squashed that idea by refusing to allow the city joint control of the county’s tourism authority, which is no great shakes in its own right but, last I heard, is at least going to give being useful for once the old college try.

This isn’t to dismiss tourism as a valid moneymaker for Anderson County’s businesses. We have two of the finest bourbon distilleries on the vaunted Bourbon Trail, both of which are already promoted to the nines by the state’s tourism cabinet, not to mention the small fortunes each spend of their own money attracting visitors.

The trick, and it doesn’t take a tax that rapes restaurant owners of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, is to get a large chunk of those tourists to do more than cross the S bridge or hop on the Parkway and bolt following their visits.

This newspaper did just that a few years when we, in an effort to use our own money to make money, leveraged the equestrian games in Louisville to create a brochure of local businesses that is distributed in, wait for it, the distilleries!

Businesses pay a few bucks for the ad, we pay to have the brochures printed and, waddya know, people visiting the distilleries looking for something to eat or do magically appear in Lawrenceburg, wallets at the ready.

Let’s face it: many more restaurants open only to fail than succeed in Lawrenceburg, and swiping a percentage of their gross sales right off the top is only going to make that worse.

Speaking of taxes …

Leave it to the school board to go hog wild when setting its tax rate when other countywide (which excludes the city) taxing districts were able this year to muddle along just fine without doing the same. The fiscal court, for example, followed Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway’s recommendation and left its rate flat, ditto the health board, where sanity has returned in full force.

In just two years the school board has extracted an additional $600,000 from our collective wallets with no apparent end in sight.

Had it simply left the rate alone, the district would have come out $100,000 to the good, thanks to an increase to the county’s overall property value. (Had board member Roger McDowell bothered to check that out instead of apparently guessing that “property values are flat,” he could have devised another, perhaps more plausible, reason to vote the way he did.)

Speaking of good authority …

I chuckled from afar when I read that Conway finally got his way and convinced the state DOT to reduce the speed limit on Versailles Road.

Sick of having people killed on that road due, in part, to the speed limit being too high, Conway fought and fought and finally got his way.

He won’t say it so I will: Those who mocked him when he made the request and insisted he didn’t know what he was talking were as wrong as they could be.

I’ll keep an eye out for any letters or Facebook posts from one fellow in particular to see if he can admit it.

Speaking of taxes, again …

The city council can raise taxes all it wants, but it would be nice to hear a genuine reason rather than what I’ll charitably call dubious excuses.

When questioned by Councilman Paul Thomas Vaughn if the city could pay its bills without the increase, the mayor’s response that without the increase personnel cuts were possible was laughable.

Had the council left the rate flat — it’s up 20 percent since 2008 — its revenue would have decreased a paltry $150, hardly cause to start laying people off.

Further, if $150 is such a burden to cut, might I suggest repurposing the $100,000 the mayor budgeted for the previously mentioned tourism scheme?

Email Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.