Ahead of budget adoption, restaurateurs voice opposition to proposed meals tax increase

Ahead of budget adoption, restaurateurs voice opposition to proposed meals tax increase
(File photo)

By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

A number of Alexandria restaurateurs took a formal stance against the proposed one-percent meals tax increase as council prepares to endorse a budget on Thursday.

Council added the tax increase to the budget at its final add/delete session on Monday night, with Mayor Allison Silberberg, Councilor Willie Bailey, Councilor Del Pepper and Councilor John Chapman in favor, and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, Councilor Paul Smedberg and Councilor Tim Lovain opposed. Council will adopt the budget on Thursday night.

The addition of the tax increase to the budget attracted ire from a number of Alexandria restaurant owners. Several were present at the Monday night meeting. 

Margaret and Laurent Janowsky, owners of the Del Ray Cafe, wrote a letter to Mayor Allison Silberberg and members of council in opposition to the proposed increase on Sunday. The owners of Eat Good Food Group, which includes Restaurant Eve, Eamonn’s, Society Fair and Hummingbird, also wrote in opposition to the increase. As of Sunday night, members of the Del Ray Business Association board had voted unanimously to oppose the tax. 

“Our small business-centric community in the Mount Vernon Avenue corridor is made up of many mom and pop businesses, a large proportion of which are restaurants. In the past few days, as many have become aware of this proposal, we have heard loudly from our members, both restaurant and retail, who have serious concerns,” The DRBA statement read. “The proposed tax will change the way people spend money on meals. While it may not seem like much, in an industry with very thin margins, it’s the pennies that add up to keep the doors open and our main street vibrant.”

This comes a month after the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce took a position against increasing the dedicated funding stream for affordable housing. In a letter to the mayor and members of council on March 14, Chamber President Joe Haggerty and Chamber Board Chair Virginia Kinneman said 66.44 percent of its members were opposed to the meals tax increase.

The proposed tax increase, put forward by Councilor Willie Bailey, would increase the meals tax from four to five percent. The increase, if approved, would go toward funding affordable housing in the city. City staff estimated in March that the increase would add 16 cents to the average $16 restaurant bill. Staff said it would raise approximately $4.75 million. 

Bailey first proposed the meals tax increase in early March. At the time, Silberberg proposed introducing a voluntary contribution at restaurants for affordable housing funding. 

When affordable housing funding was discussed at the April 24 budget work session, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson proposed increasing the meals tax by the same amount, while decreasing the real estate tax dedication. At the meeting, Silberberg, Pepper and Chapman expressed support for Bailey’s proposal, while Councilor Smedberg expressed support for Wilson’s proposal.