Rockingham County Meals Tax Referendum:
Questions and Answers
On this fall’s ballot, citizens of Rockingham County have the opportunity to give the Board of Supervisors the approval to add a food and beverage (meals) tax, the money from which will be used only to protect and enhance the quality of our school system. If approved the tax will lessen the County’s dependence on real estate taxes as the primary source of funds for the local share to construct and operate our schools. At the same time, by adding this tax, those who travel through our County – and enjoy its resources – will help pay a share of the cost to educate our youth.
Both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board strongly support this initiative, believing that it is a fairer way of providing the funds needed for investment in our schools and the future of our school children.
What is the meals tax?
The meals tax is a local-option tax levied on the purchaser of all prepared food and beverages served in restaurants and other dining room eateries, such as grills, coffee shops, cafeterias, snack bars, carry outs, delicatessens, caterers, gas stations, and other similar facilities that provide already prepared, ready-to-eat meals. It does NOT apply to those groceries which require or involve preparation, like cooking, at home or elsewhere.
I have heard that the money collected from this tax is limited to being used for the school system; is this true?
Yes, according to the language that will be on the ballot, the money may be used only for the construction, addition and operation of public schools in Rockingham County, Virginia. A copy of the petition from the Board of Supervisors to the Circuit Court requesting the referendum may be found at www.rockinghamcountyva.gov . The Board of Supervisors is not required to limit the uses of the money but chose to do so because of its commitment to provide quality education in the County, and its concern that not all of the burden to pay for schools should come from real estate property owners in the County.
How about churches, schools and other charitable groups? Will they be expected to collect the tax?
No, the Board passed a resolution on September 9, 2009 that exempts all of these groups from collecting the tax on meals sold for charitable purposes. A copy of that resolution can be found at www.rockinghamcountyva.gov .
What is the maximum rate that can be charged?
The maximum rate that can be charged in counties is 4%. Cities and towns can approve a higher rate, and currently Harrisonburg and Elkton charge 6%, while Bridgewater, Dayton, Grottoes, Strasburg, Staunton and Waynesboro charge 5%. All of the Towns in Rockingham except Broadway have a meals tax. Broadway Town Council can add the Meals tax at any time by resolution of the Council. Currently, 182 local governments in Virginia have a meals tax.
I heard that the “County” meals tax will have to be paid in addition to the meals tax charged in Harrisonburg, Bridgewater, Dayton, Elkton, Grottoes, Mt. Crawford and Timberville, is this true?
No. If approved, the County meals tax will only be collected from persons who eat at businesses located in the County, and outside of Harrisonburg and the Towns. People already pay the meals taxes in City and the Towns. Also, remember, this is not a tax on the business but on the people who purchase the food. The businesses will have to collect the tax and send it to the County.
In these tough financial times why does the Board of Supervisors think we need a meals tax?
The meals tax is being considered by the Board because the State continues to have significant financial difficulties (because of problems in Northern Virginia), and is not able to meet its commitment to pay for county (local) services such as schools, sheriff, courts, social services, health department and other areas that we share the responsibility to pay for services under state law. The State is required by law to pay as much as 100% of the cost of some of these programs, but is telling local governments like Rockingham that it is reducing the amount it will pay for its share; as a result, the check it will send is not sufficient since it doesn’t have enough to pay our County for your services, but the County still has to provide the service! The un-funded or under-funded mandates from the State cost our citizens their hard-earned local money! The Governor earlier this month told us that the State is looking at another $1.3 billion shortfall for the coming year. Despite those shortfalls, the State is not changing the County’s legal responsibility to provide services. The County has reduced services, not filled most vacant positions, increased class sizes in schools, laid off staff, cut out travel, reduced office costs, and eliminated programs to meet its obligations for the critical services we are obligated to provide, and has done this within the resources available to it and without a real estate tax increase. The Board of Supervisors and School Board are committed to working together to continue their efforts to provide quality services for our citizens at the lowest cost possible within reason. By approving a meals tax, you will allow those that travel through our County along I-81, and those that go to Massanutten, JMU, EMU, Bridgewater College, the Shenandoah National Park and other tourist areas, as well as, City residents that eat in the County, to share in some of the cost of educating children in Rockingham County, both now and in the future.
What can you do to help?
Learn more about the benefits of having a meals tax. Talk with your neighbors about how it lessens the dependence on real estate taxes, and sets aside money for the continuation of our quality schools. And express your views at the ballot box on November 3, 2009.
Where can you get more information?
Joseph S. Paxton, County Administrator
Rockingham County Administration Center
20 East Gay Street
Harrisonburg, VA 22802
Here is contact information for the Board of Supervisors if you'd like to speak with them:
Pablo Cuevas, Vice-Chairman, District 1 Supervisor-R
543 Elm Street
Broadway, VA 22815
Home: (540) 896-7889
Frederick E. Eberly, Chairman, District 2 Supervisor-R
3155 Harpine Highway
Harrisonburg, VA 22802
Home: (540) 833-5167
Cell: (540) 578-2671
William B. Kyger, Jr., District 4 Supervisor-R
6710 Vista Heights Rd
Bridgewater, VA 22812
Home: (540) 828-2004
Work: (540) 828-2008
---And the School Board---
406 Gold Drive
Broadway VA 22815
7858 Glen Hollow Road
Singers Glen, VA 22850
John J. Myers, Jr.
125 Steeplechase Drive
Penn Laird VA 22846
103 West Ave.
Bridgewater VA 22812
W. R. Good
16642 Red Brush Road
Elkton, VA 22827