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WHAT WE THINK: Restaurant tax could feed all of us

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Simpsonville's controversial ordinance should be considered by Shelbyville, too, because it provides revenue and promotes our county.

The critics were passionate and to the point during the Simpsonville City Commission’s meeting last week. They didn’t want a restaurant tax in the city, and they offered a smorgasbord of reasons why.

And although commissioners voted as they should have – to impose the 3 percent surcharge on food and beverage sold in the city – this wonderful discussion, filled with so many well-constructed opinions, left us with one really bad question and one really good one.

The bad one: Can Shelby County afford to have a tourism commission?

The good one: Why won’t the city of Shelbyville follow its sister city’s lead and add this tax, too?

First, the mere thought that the county should not be promoting itself as a tourist destination tells us that not everyone recognizes what this county has to sell.

Saddlebred horses frequently are mentioned as the sole benefactor of this promotion, but in fact it’s just the opposite. Horses – and Saddlebreds are a minority of breeds in the county – are a magnet to attract people to the county.

These people stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants. They buy fuel at our stations and gifts in our shops. They might even also like antiques and history, two of the niches Shelby County fills in the tourism world. Add in the scenic passage that is U.S. 60, and you can see that Shelby County has much to offer.

Now we will add a new magnet: The Outlet Shoppes of Louisville. These nine buildings worth of retail outlets will bring in faces more easily and more significantly. They will be lures the likes of which we’ve never seen.

But we want to get those people away from that mall and off to, say, Old Stone Inn or Claudia Sanders or Bell House or Talon Winery or J.T.’s Pizza or Brenda’s Country Caféor the discussed distillery or any other local establishment.

Accomplishing that takes promotion, that takes outreach, and that takes money. This restaurant tax, which in vast majority would be paid by visitors and not locals, can help provide significant dollars to do just that.

This revenue stream also can help the city of Simpsonville fund all manner of projects that enhance the lives of its residents, elevating their property values, providing public areas to expand their quality of life and investing for them instead of by them (through raising property taxes).

Simpsonville Mayor Steve Eden is quick to explain that his city has some of the lowest taxes around and that its property tax rate likely will decline with the mall’s opening. The restaurant tax helps guard against that as well, because it can pay to construct sidewalks, buy public parks and expand city festivals and simply make the old city fresher without costing residents much at all.

Which brings us to our obvious question: Why wouldn’t Shelbyville want to do this, too?

Shelby County Tour Director Charlie Kramer had an answer to that question during the meeting: “They’ve never been asked.”

Well, we should ask, and the city council should listen.

Yes, council members have their agendas full with many projects, including the embraceable curbside garbage/recycling program, but this 3 percent could bring millions into Shelbyville’s coffers, millions that could enhance that city as well.

It could fund the East End project, make a dent in the 7th Street Corridor, help with the trail along Clear Creek and – this is our primary objective, of course – help to build/operate the proposed City Center convention/arts center in downtown Shelbyville.

So we think the answer to all these questions is really simple:

A restaurant tax in Simpsonville and Shelbyville can make the county an infinitely more livable place, and having a tourism commission only can enhance the growth of that revenue pie by selling meals and drinks to out-of-towners.

That’s a concept we can savor.