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Monroe County votes 4-3 to adopt food and beverage tax



Dozens of signs were waved, six people stormed out of the room and the debate lasted five hours, but Monroe County has officially adopted a Food and Beverage Tax. 

It passed 4-3.

It will be a 1-percent tax on prepared foods and beverages to fund the expansion of the Bloomington Convention Center.

The seats were full in the Nat U. Hill Meeting Room of the Monroe County Courthouse as the public voiced their support or opposition to the tax. A man walked around, offering card stock baring the word “NO” printed to fellow residents.

Others in the crowd held signs reading “Yes, Invest!” and “CREATE NEW JOBS.”

The approved tax has been an especially controversial one, drawing criticism from many Monroe County citizens since its proposal.

After council member Shelli Yoder voted yes, six members of the audience stormed out. 

Yoder was known to be the swing vote for the proposal. Members of the public thought they had a fairly clear idea of how her fellow council members would vote, but she was the wildcard. 

“I want to express clearly my support for my investment in this project,” Mayor John Hamilton said.

Mayor John Hamilton supports the tax, and Deputy Mayor Mike Renneisen echoed the mayor’s sentiment.

“It impacts those who choose to spend money at bars and restaurants,” he said. “Yes, others are impacted by this tax, but let’s keep this in perspective. It’s one cent on every dollar."

As he spoke, people in the back of the room waved their “NO” signs.

“There’s a certain arrogance to saying it’s only 1-percent,” community member Jeff Sagarin said to the community council. “Nobody gets to vote on this except you.”

The tax, called the ‘Zombie Tax’ by the Monroe County Citizens Against the Food and Beverage Tax, does not have a clause stating when the tax will end. Citizens are not sure what the tax will be put toward when the convention center is funded.

“To the people that say once you pass a tax you never repeal it: sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it isn’t,” Monroe County Council President Ryan Cobine said.

Resident Jim Murphy said despite IU students’ concerns about the tax, they will benefit from the center’s expansion. He referred to job fairs held by the Kelley School of Business at the center.

The College Republicans at Indiana University and others raised concerns that the tax was voted on during finals week, making it difficult for IU students to attend public comment.

In a Dec. 4 press release denouncing the tax, the College Republicans said many of the students paying for the convention center will graduate and leave Bloomington before they can enjoy its rewards.

Many members of the public voiced concerns Wednesday that the tax will increase over time.

“I’m old enough I remember when Indiana first had a sales tax,” Grott said. “It was 2-percent, and you can see where it’s at now.”

Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge disagreed.

“I do not support unfettered growth in downtown Bloomington, but this project does not fall in that category,” she said.

Opponents of the tax say it will affect students disproportionately because they consume so many prepared foods and beverages. The tax will also affect people like Grott, who has Parkinson’s disease. 

Parkinson’s affects coordination, and Grott said sometimes he is physically unable to make himself a meal and buys prepared food instead.

“It’s not that I want to spend the money," he said. it’s that if I want to eat, sometimes that’s what I’ve got to do."

When it came time for the vote, tensions in the room were high, with heckling coming from both sides of the crowd.

“Most of the people speaking in support of this look to me like they’ve never truly experienced severe financial difficulty,” Monroe County Council member Lee Jones said before voting no. “We are taxing a necessity to fund an amenity.”

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