Huntertown Town Council members told representatives from both the Allen County Council and Fort Wayne City Council on Feb. 1 that they would like to hear from their constituents before taking a stance on Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry’s administration’s efforts to raise the local Food and Beverage Tax on restaurants.
County Council President Kyle Kerley and City Council Vice President Russ Jehl attended Huntertown Town Council’s Feb. 1 meeting, asking members to pass a resolution opposing the increase. Several local elected officials have stated they would oppose the increase, as they feel it would be a further detriment to businesses already struggling under the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Russ and I and a number of council members have worked together to really draft a joint resolution that any of the fiscal bodies in the county could sign onto if they chose to, saying, ‘We all stand in opposition of an attempt to raise a food and beverage tax, whether it be countywide, whether it be in the city of Fort Wayne,’” Kerley told Town Council members. “Because, as you all know, even though some of us may not live in the city of Fort Wayne, most of the restaurants do lie within the city limits of Fort Wayne, and it’s really something that affects everybody in the county, even if it was only a city tax.
“… We’re just trying to really send a message to the Statehouse that, as elected officials representing restaurants, representing people hurt by the pandemic, that this really isn’t the time or the avenue to be approaching a tax increase.”
Mayor Henry announced the previous week plans to take control of the local Food and Beverage Tax and increase it by a penny on the dollar, with that revenue being used for future development projects. Efforts to raise the tax appeared to be put on hold Feb. 3 when State Sen. Travis Holdman announced the state’s Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy would not hear any bills regarding food and beverage taxes in the current session. Shortly before that announcement, Fort Wayne and Allen County elected officials met to introduce the joint resolution advising the State Legislature that raising the tax would be “premature.”
During Huntertown Town Council’s Feb. 1 meeting, Jehl said he was asking for other municipalities to sign onto the resolution to build more “strength in numbers” and “raise more awareness in Indianapolis.” Had Huntertown signed onto the resolution that night, it would have been the first in the county to do so.
Huntertown Town Council member Brandon Seifert has spoken out in opposition of the tax increase. On Jan. 29, he posted to his campaign Facebook page that he planned to introduce the joint resolution in opposition, stating Huntertown opposes the tax.
“We need to protect this area of the economy and this tax would only make it worse for the restaurant and bar owners,” he wrote. “It also would only benefit downtown Ft. Wayne and not the county and surrounding communities like Huntertown, New Haven, Woodburn, Leo-Cedarville and others.”
Though Huntertown Town Council President Gary Grant said he didn’t disagree with Kerley and Jehl’s sentiments, he would like to hear from Huntertown residents before signing onto the resolution.
“I love that the discussion is open in Huntertown,” Grant said. “My view on this right now is I love the introduction of it, I love that it’s going to be discussed, but I would like to hear publicly from our residents how they feel about this prior to us taking a vote on this. This is my opinion right now.”
Council members Mike Stamets and Pat Freck also questioned why Huntertown should be the first body to approve of the resolution.
“My opinion is it’s not even an issue yet,” Stamets said. “We don’t even know what Fort Wayne is going to do, and yes, I agree that restaurants, for the majority, are in Fort Wayne, but I don’t know that it would affect us. To me, it would just be making a statement — that’s it. I just don’t understand that we should be involved in it at this point.”
Freck echoed those comments: “We’ve had our problems with the city of Fort Wayne. … If for whatever reason the city of Fort Wayne was successful and we as council members, as residents of Huntertown, don’t like it, there’s always other areas where you could go where you wouldn’t have to pay the 1%. But I just feel at this point we don’t have a dog in the fight. Maybe I would look at it differently had City Council already adopted some kind of a resolution and County Council done the same thing. We have to explain to our constituents why we think this would be a good thing to go against the city of Fort Wayne, and personally, I don’t see it as that big of an issue with Huntertown at this point.”
Kerley noted Huntertown’s approval of the resolution could eliminate other avenues for passage of the tax increase, namely through the county tax board, should it fail to pass through City Council or County Council.