Henrico meals tax could go before voters - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

Henrico meals tax could go before voters

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HENRICO, VA (WWBT) -

Henrico voters will now decide if they want to pay a bit more when they eat out that's because a meals tax could go on the November ballot.

At first the answer might seem simple, who wants to pay an extra tax?  But the answer may not be that easy.

Many people going out to eat right now, probably voted against the meals tax a few years ago.  But County Manager John Vithoulkas says this time the money will go to the schools so the referendum is about more than a meal away from home.

Every afternoon, the staff at Anthony and George's Steak House on Staples Mill Road serve up the lunch special.  Owner Marianna Maratos says most of her customers are the elderly or families.

"They're on a limited budget too," she said. 

But customers may have to pay a bit more, that's because the Board of Supervisors just agreed to a meals tax referendum.  That means voters will cast a ballot on whether or not four-percent should be added to their bill.

 "It is a last resort of sorts," says Vithoulkas.   He says Henrico is already strained.  Now, he foresees even tougher financial times if another source of revenue isn't found soon.

"Our state government continues to push more services to localities," he said.

County leaders tried to pass this tax before, but voters said no.  Vithoulkas says this time if the meals tax is approved the money will go to the school system which makes up more than half of the county's budget.  Just this week the superintendent warned of "catastrophic cuts" for the 2014-2015 school year if more money doesn't start coming in.

"What we are putting forward is simply a question for our voters to be able to decide the future of our county and how we operate our school systems," says Vithoulkas.

When you put it like that, Maratos is torn.

"I have two small children at home so I definitely want the best for my children," she said.

But she says, right now, she wouldn't be checking off yes for a meals tax.

According to the Vithoulkas, Henrico's Finance Department did a study that shows 40-percent of the people eating out in Henrico don't live here.  He predicts the tax could generate $18 million for the county if it's approved.

The board must approve the resolution for the referendum, the it will have to go before the Henrico Circuit Court and U.S. Department of Justice before it ends up on the ballot.

There will be a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. on April 9.  The board is scheduled to vote on the budget on April 23.

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