By Rob McDaniel
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A concerned citizen spoke up during Monday night’s London City Council meeting against a possible three percent restaurant tax that could be levied by the London Tourism and Convention Commission as soon as next month.
Tim Lewis, a factory worker from London, expressed concerns about how a rumored restaurant tax would only hurt the working class of London and Laurel County.
“Most of the jobs around here are factory or call center jobs,” Lewis said. “Those jobs usually fill their open positions through a temp agency which prevents a lot of us from getting raises or earning full-time work. Times are tough for a lot of people right now and a new tax is only going to make them tougher.”
Mayor Troy Rudder explained although the City Council will ultimately vote on whether to pass a restaurant tax, the decision to propose the restaurant tax lies with the newly-formed London Tourism and Convention Commission.
“I understand that this council won’t be the ones to propose the tax, but you will vote on it, and let’s be honest, it’s an election year,” Lewis said. “Making a new tax is not going to be a popular decision with the people. You all need to be looking at other ways of funding this commission and bringing things that appeal to all the people in our area.”
Rudder again stated that the City Council will not be making the decision regarding how the tourism commission will be funded.
“No tax is ever going to be popular with the people,” Rudder said. “Kentucky Revised Statute gives us the authority to add a restaurant tax or even a one percent transient room tax. We on this council have no idea how the tourism commission plans to fund themselves. It’s their decision.”
Cities of the fourth and fifth class are permitted by KRS 91A.400 to levy a tax on restaurant sales to fund local tourism commissions. All money received from a restaurant tax must be turned over to the city’s tourism and convention commission.
According to the Kentucky League of Cities, only around 16 percent of cities allowed to levy a restaurant tax have chosen to do so. Although restaurant taxes accounted for only one percent of total tax collection in the state, they provided $11.2 million in revenue in FY 2011.
“We are doing more with tourism than ever before,” said Councilman Jim Hays. “The city provides good services and protection to attendees and the community during these events. All these services cost money. We have to find ways to pay for these costs and one way would be a possible restaurant tax.
“One thing about a restaurant tax is it is the only totally optional tax we have,” Hays continued. “I don’t have kids, but I have to pay school tax. You don’t have to eat out, that’s optional. A school tax is not.”
Lewis was invited to bring his concerns to the Tourism and Convention Commission meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 20 at City Hall, where the commission is expected to discuss possibilities for their funding.
Councilmember, and also the Tourism and Convention Commission Chairman, Jason Handy was not present at Monday’s meeting due to illness.
Representatives from Appalachian Wireless presented the council with a request to add cellular antennas to a specific billboard on Ky. 192 in London.
The six cellular antennas and one microwave dish requested to be added to the billboard would improve cellular reception inside buildings as it would serve as Appalachian Wireless’ only cellular antennas positioned facing the fronts of shopping centers in London.
City Attorney Larry Bryson explained to the council the issue is that permission was granted for the billboard to be used as an advertising device and adding antennas would repurpose the billboards.
“This is not necessarily a bad thing because it uses existing structures to provide a better service to the community,” Bryson said. “However, this council needs to decide what requirements must be set in place to ensure the billboards maintain their structural integrity.”
Due to uncertainty in existing laws and procedures regulating the use of billboards as cellular towers, the council recommended further discussion by the involved attorneys and the topic will be brought back to the council at a later date.
The council also set the date for Red, White and Boom for Friday, July 4.
“The Fourth of July falls on a Friday this year,” Rudder said. “I know we usually do Red, White and Boom on the Saturday before, but I think it would be kind of neat to have our Independence Day celebration on the Fourth of July.”
The council also heard and approved the second reading of an ordinance to rezone the following properties from R2 residential zones to C2 commercial zones:
• Property owned by James R. Johnson located at 1864 North Mill Street
• Property owned by Bertie L. Sawyers located at 1869 and 1871 North Mill Street
• Property owned by James C. Johnson and Sarah C. Johnson at 1868 North Mill Street
• Property owned by James R. Parsley and Mary Parsley at 1867 North Mill Street
• A 5K run was approved to take place on March 29, during the Grills Gone Wild Barbecue event. Proceeds will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.
• A 13.1 mile mini-marathon was approved to take place on May 10; proceeds will go towards funding the Backpack Club.
• A 5K run was tentatively approved for March 22, pending the availability of London City Police. Proceeds will go towards the family of a Saint Joseph London Emergency Room nurse who is fighting breast cancer.