Viewpoint: Voters, so far, maintaining the status quo
Liz Engel Clark
Friday, Jul 6, 2012
In a number of municipal elections, many of which have or have had the ability to impact business in a big way, voters seem to be holding – or are expected to hold – the line on everything from alcohol sales to mayorships to local option sales tax increases.
Take, for instance, Smithville, where in June, voters defeated a liquor-by-the-drink referendum, an initiative that would have given city restaurants the opportunity to serve wine and other mixed alcoholic beverages to patrons, given the right licensure, of course. The measure lost by less than 70 votes – 402 to 333 – and lake goers, aka tourists, visitors and outsiders alike, groaned in disappointment. Did the locals think it was a kind of “gateway drug,” that liquor-by-the-drink sales would open up their town to package stores, more instances of drunk driving, etc.? L-B-T-D did wonders for the city of Cookeville, although we are talking about a much different demographic. It can definitely be debated whether or not Smithville would ever be in line for a chain restaurant like Chili’s, Applebees or O’Charley’s. Certainly, with this vote, they’re not ready.
Mixed in with a slew of other local issues, there’s another important ballot upcoming in Sparta, where voters will be polled on the possibility of a local option sales tax increase. The increase would raise the city and county’s collected tax rate by a half a percent; the referendum is set for vote in August. It’s been much discussed on the governmental level but has received very little attention outside those board meeting rooms.
The premise? The state allows each county or city to collect up to 2.75 percent above the state tax level of 7 percent. That money goes to support their local community – meaning most people, when they buy clothes, goods or most anything else, pay a 9.75 percent tax. But Sparta collects only 2.25 percent, bringing the total tax collected on purchases to 9.25 percent. Sparta seems behind the times when compared to most surrounding communities, like Cookeville, Crossville, Smithville and Spencer, who all collect the maximum rate.
The Sparta-White County Chamber of Commerce is staying issue neutral, Executive Director Wallace Austin said, but several sources have already adamantly maintained that the measure won’t pass. Nobody likes new taxes; but why, I must ask, was the 9.75 percent level never attained in the first place? If the referendum is approved, it could mean an additional $715,000 for city and county coffers, and it’s money that could be used, in the city limits, to up Sparta’s appearance, Mayor Jeff Young said, and in the county, for the schools. But it certainly faces an uphill climb.
Regardless of your feelings on these issues, it sets a kind of stalling tone to me. Eventually, liquor-by-the-drink will pass in DeKalb, this much I promise, and at some point, new taxes will be needed in White County – and in many of our other communities (although a lot of times, however, that’s an issue decided outside a popular vote, by your boards of aldermen, city councils and county commissions. So I applaud the people who actually set foot in a precinct this year and let their thoughts be known).
Because there’s one more huge monstrosity of an election coming in November – in case you hadn’t heard – and once again, there’s a big push for change. Does the local scene set a precedent for this fall? It seems, according to one recent poll, that the small business community is a little more right leaning, many basing their predictions on yet another election this year where not much changed – the recall in Wisconsin. In the meantime, many of us, including those small businesses, will be holding our breath, and apparently, a higher percentage of them will be whispering those same ironic words, “Yes We Can.” How’s that for change?
Liz Engel Clark is the editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal. She can be reached at (931) 528-8852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.