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Hearing draws lively debate on Fishers food-drink tax

November 13, 2013

The Fishers Chamber of Commerce and some individual business owners are on opposite sides of a debate over imposing a 1-percent food-and-beverage tax to help fund economic development efforts in the town.

More than a dozen people spoke out Tuesday night at the first of two public hearings on the proposal. Town Council members are expected to vote in early December.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a law this year allowing Fishers to enact the tax on food and beverages served in restaurants. The revenue, estimated to be $1.2 million annually, can only be used to fund local economic development or reduce the town’s property-tax rate.

Restaurateur Bill Smythe said the tax would cut into his profit margins.

“For me, it’s a very specific taxation on my business,” said Smythe, who owns Claude and Annie’s Food & Spirits on 141st Street in Fishers. “Once you’ve taxed me, you’re effectively taxing my employees.”

Smythe told the council he would be less opposed to the levy if the proceeds were used to lower property-tax rates instead of funding economic development projects.

Local Realtor Kurt Meyer, speaking on behalf of the Fishers Chamber, said the tax is needed to fund economic development—an important part of diversifying the town’s property tax base and attracting employers to Fishers.

“It’s a competitive world,” Meyer said. “Every time that one of these companies comes to look at Fishers, Indiana, they’re looking at not only our neighboring communities but they’re also looking at neighboring states.”

He was in the minority at the hearing, which drew about three dozen residents. Most who spoke opposed the tax, and many expressed skepticism about imposing the levy with no specific economic development projects on the horizon.

IBJ reported Nov. 9 that officials are working on specific deals, but they aren’t ready to discuss details.

Town Council members told the crowd Tuesday that such talks must be conducted behind closed doors due to the competitive nature of negotiations.

The only council member to take a clear position on the issue so far is Renee Cox, a mayoral candidate who strongly opposes the tax. She came under attack Tuesday from council members Scott Faultless, Mike Colby and Pete Peterson, who accused her of using the tax debate for political gain. Cox said she’s just listening to the people.

Fishers Town Manager Scott Fadness, who also is running for mayor, said he is not ready to take a position on the issue. He wants to listen to public comments and wait for specific information on how the tax will work. He said waiting will allow him to make an “informed decision.”

Mayoral candidate Walt Kelly also has said he opposes the food-and-beverage tax.

Other communities in the northern suburbs have been collecting a 1-percent food-and-beverage tax for eight years, ever since a funding deal for the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis gave them the chance. The tax applies to dine-in and carry-out prepared food.

Suburbs that adopted the tax at the time—Carmel, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville—can use the money for any public purpose.

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Recent Articles by Larry Lannan / Special to IBJ

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