As Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney continues to promote his proposed meals tax hike as a way to fund new school construction, one of his appointees to the Education Compact committee has resigned amid a controversial email.
Former Richmond School Board member Cindy Menz-Erb stepped down Thursday from her unpaid position on the committee. Menz-Erb was one of Mayor Stoney's six appointees announced in early January to the Compact Team.
The email, which ultimately circulated on social media drawing some scorn, encouraged support for the mayor’s proposed meals tax increase, and asked supporters to boycott restaurants that oppose the plan.
Mayor Stoney quickly posted a statement on Facebook making it clear he does not support the boycott"
My proposal to fund schools has generated strong feelings on both sides. Debate is healthy, and ensures we make the best decision for our kids and our community.
But let me make one thing clear - I do NOT support penalizing anyone, or any business, for their beliefs. In fact - I feel the exact opposite. We have an opportunity to rally around our ENTIRE restaurant community to show them that strong restaurants can help us build strong schools. As this debate moves forward, I plan to visit restaurants on all sides of this issue, to thank them for what they do for our city, and to learn how, I, as Mayor, can do more to help them grow and thrive in Richmond. I hope everyone who sees this will do the same.
Menz-Erb could not be reached for comment.
Stoney wants to raise the meal tax 1.5 percent, which he says will generate an additional $9.1 million per year.
Currently, the meals tax is six percent. The proposed tax hike would bring it to 7.5 percent, bringing the total meals tax to 12.8 percent (including the state’s portion).
The city currently has a $66 million debt capacity through FY2023. Stoney says that would increase to $150 million if they increase the meal tax. He says those funds would be reserved for school facilities.
A group of restaurant owners supporting the meals tax met with Stoney Thursday afternoon at Ms. Girlee’s restaurant.
"Our kids need us. We have to take care of our children,” said Helen Holmes, owner of Ms. Girlee’s.
"Some of these schools aren't fit to store farm animals, to be honest with you,” said Lester Johnson, owner of Mama J’s.
Other restaurant owners are calling the proposal unfair, saying it targets just one industry.
"There's nothing other than, 'This is our only option. We have no other option… [The mayor is] not sitting down to say, 'Hey, maybe we can do something with real estate tax. There's one percent. Hey, maybe we can do the Airbnb, the hotels, the cigarettes, maybe gasoline," said John Giavos, who owns multiple restaurants in Richmond, including Stella’s and Kitchen 64.
Giavos says he's a huge supporter of public schools, with all of his children going through RPS. However, he says the tax should be spread out among industries.
"We want to be part of it. We just want to be part of it across the board with other industries,” continued Giavos.
The City Council would ultimately have to approve any meals tax hike, and so far members have varying support on the plan.
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