By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A Mercer County delegate is proposing legislation that would allow the county’s municipalities and the county commission to charge a prepared meals tax.
Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said Thursday that he was introducing a bill that would allow a prepared meals tax in the county. A bill number had not yet been assigned.
The bill would first allow the county to decide whether to have a public vote about the tax; passage would require a 60 percent approval level, Shott said. If passed, the bill would allow the county to levy a tax of no more than 3 percent on meals prepared in restaurants. Meals prepared by churches, schools and nonprofit entities for fundraising would not be included.
Revenues generated by a prepared meals tax would be split between the county, the county’s economic development authority, and municipalities if restaurants are located within their boundaries, Shott said. All of these entities would meet and decide how to split the tax money before the proposed tax is put before the public for a vote. Cities would not have the option of levying a meals tax unless the county does it.
Municipalities and the Development Authority of Mercer County could receive no less than 25 percent apiece of the revenue generated by the taxes, but they could receive more if all the entities agree on higher splits, Shott said.
“Here’s an example,” Shott said. “There’s a restaurant on (Route) 460 that’s not in Princeton city limits. You take 100 percent of the revenue. The county could get 75 percent and the economic development authority would get at least 25 percent.”
The division of tax funds would change if the restaurant is inside the city limits.
“Suppose a restaurant is in Princeton. All the revenue would be divided three ways. The city would get no less than 25 percent, the economic development authority would get no less than 25 percent, and the county would get the rest,” Shott said.
If the recipients have specific purposes for the new revenue, such as the county using the money to help pay the regional jail bill, those goals would be part of the proposal placed before Mercer County’s voters.
“The idea is to inform the voters as much as possible about how the money would be spent and split between different entities,” Shott said.
Local leaders said proceeds from a prepared meals tax would be helpful.
“It would definitely help the revenue for the city,” said Mayor Linda Whalen of Bluefield. “We would look at the amount of money the town of Bluefield, Va. gets on a meals tax. Wytheville built a convention center on its tax. It would be a huge benefit to the county and certainly the municipalities.”
A similar tax that is already in place is paid both by the county’s residents and visitors.
“I think a good example of that kind of tax is our hotel and motel tax,” Whalen said. “We have the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau because of that tax. The prepared meals tax would be the same. This would be another tax visitors would be paying, not just local people.”
“Well, anytime we get new revenue, it’s a bonus,” said Mayor Patricia “Pat” Wilson of Princeton. “In Bluefield, Va., they already have a prepared meals tax. I don’t think it would impact people, but it would be a source of revenue for us.”
Wilson said that she has never noticed the prepared meals tax when she has eaten at Bluefield, Va. restaurants.
“You don’t really pay attention. You just get it and pay for it,” she said.
Shott said he is currently recruiting other sponsors for the bill and hopes to introduce it March 18 in the House and have it go into committee.
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org