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Officials Consider Meals Tax in Fairfax County

Officials will likely attempt to put a meals tax referendum to voters in future elections, though the proposal has had little success in the past.

The price of your dinner could go up a bit if a proposal from a Fairfax County supervisor passas. 

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is once again considering a meals tax — but the proposal has a long way to go before it is put to voters in a future election.

For the eighth time during his tenure, Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) proposed this week that a meals tax referendum appear on ballots during the election.

In his resolution, Hyland estimated the tax could generate between $80 and $100 million annually. Such revenue, which Hyland calculated with a hypothetical 4 percent meals tax, might allow the Board to alleviate stress on the county’s real estate base, which just saw an increase in tax this budget cycle.

“As was clearly evidenced during our budget discussions, the county is still over reliant on the real estate tax rate to provide revenues,” Hyland’s resolution reads.

He said a tax on food and beverages would be a much fairer way for the county to collect revenue.

“The meals tax, if passed, could at least give us some relief from our real estate property owners,” he said.

In the Town of Vienna, all businesses that sell food pay 3 percent of its qualifying meals sales, whether or not that food is prepared on premises. It is not an assessed tax on the business, but instead included in the price that patrons pay at the time of purchase. This money is used to fund various capital improvement projects in town.

Arlington County has a 4 percent meals tax.

But such taxes have had little success in Fairfax County. Supervisors voted 7-3 against a meals tax in 2009, and in 1992, 57 percent of voters opposed a meals tax referendum.

The majority of the Board agreed with Hyland that the county needed a meals tax to increase its revenue stream, but said it would almost certainly fail if put to voters this fall.

Instead, officials decided to develop a proper plan, speaking to the county’s business and restaurant community, so that it will pass when it appears on a ballot.

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) was adamant in his support for a meals tax, but said the Board couldn’t just toss it on the ballot without a comprehensive strategy and the business community’s support.

“This is way to important to do that,” he said. “We need a meals tax in Fairfax County but we need to make sure we do it right.”

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said he wouldn’t support a single-industry tax, especially at a time when federal, state and local taxes were all increasing.

But Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) agreed with Foust, saying “I have never heard anybody say, ‘I never go to eat there because of the meals tax.'"

Chairman Sharon Bulova said she wanted to keep all stakeholders in the loop, and officials could discuss it more during the May 7 meeting of the Economic Advisory Commission.

"A concern I have is that we not surprise the Chamber of Commerce, that we not surprise the restaurant industry," she said.

Tell us: Do you support a meals tax in Fairfax County? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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