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Skeptical restaurant owners, supporters have their voices heard over proposed meals tax

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond's thriving restaurant scene has helped breathe new life into the metro city, now Richmond's mayor is pushing a meals tax plan that he believes will revitalize the city's aging school infrastructure.

On Monday night, the public got a firsthand look at Mayor Levar Stoney's proposal for an increased meal's tax, but it's a plan that several restaurant owners and managers say falls squarely on their backs.

"It's tough. We're the ones singled out once again to carry the load," argued Jake Crocker with the Richmond Restaurant Alliance.

Jake Crocker

In January, Mayor Stoney rolled out a proposal to raise the city's meal tax from 6 percent to 7.5 percent

A 25 percent increase for city restaurants, who already face the highest meals tax in the region.

The administration argued Monday that the higher meals tax would generate $9.1 million in new revenue and allow the city to borrow $150 million to fund school facilities improvements over the next five years.

Without the tax, the city has approximately $66 million of debt capacity through 2023.

The administration says the new tax will serve as a reliable, sustainable and locally driven revenue source that will impact the least amount of city residents.

But restaurant owners and managers are skeptical and fearful.

"The meals tax has been used before to raise funds that have not gone to the project for which they were intended. The 2003 hike was one such example," said Shannon Conway, director of operations at the Rueger Restaurant Group.

"The Richmond restaurants, independently owned restaurants, are already contributing exclusively $33 million dollars in additional taxes that are not levied on any other industry," said Crocker.

But several proponents Monday night argued that Richmond schools are in dire need.

"There's leaking sealant, no heat, mouse droppings, no doors on restroom stalls, rolls of lights out, mold on the walls and ceilings are just a few of the problems that children should not have to deal with when they enter a school building," said Mary Gresham, a Richmond parent and RPS teacher.

New school superintendent Jason Kamras, who plans to send his own two sons to Richmond Public Schools in the fall, says if the school system is to carry out a $224 million plan to renovate and build new schools, sacrifices must be made.

"There are too many buildings that don't say to the kids in those buildings that the adults of this city truly love them because if they did, we wouldn't be sending them to schools that look the way they do," said Kamras.