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May 14, 2013

Amesbury council to vote on controversial meals tax hike

AMESBURY — A final decision is expected to come tonight on the local meals tax bill, which has divided the City Council while drawing the ire of local restaurants.

A public hearing on the bill will be held at the City Council meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. in the City Hall Auditorium. If approved, the new local meals tax would impose an additional 0.75 percent charge on the price of meals in Amesbury, or 38 cents on a $50 tab. The local tax would be in addition to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Councilor Donna McClure will also introduce a new proposal to increase the local hotel tax in Amesbury from 4 percent to 6 percent, and Council President Anne Ferguson will propose an amendment to the city’s grant application process. Both of those bills will be sent to the Finance and Ordinance Committees for further discussion.

In addition, Mayor Thatcher Kezer is expected to submit the city’s annual budget for the 2014 Fiscal Year. A series of hearings on the budget is scheduled throughout the months of May and June when every city department head will discuss their budget with councilors before a final vote is taken on Tuesday, June 18.

The local meals tax was first proposed in March by Councilor Christian Scorzoni, who argued that the tax could generate an additional $200,000 in additional revenue for the city without further burdening homeowners.

Those funds could then be used for a specific purpose like road and sidewalk repair, he said, and the bill calls for a new special purpose stabilization fund to be created so that can happen.

At last month’s Finance Committee meeting, councilors were deadlocked on the matter, voting 4-4-1 on the bill and sending it back to the City Council with a divided recommendation.

Councilors Scorzoni, Ferguson, Robert Gilday and Bob Lavoie were in favor, while McClure, Jim Kelcourse, Joseph McMilleon and Derek Kimball were opposed. Allen Neale cast the final vote, choosing not to pick a side by voting “present.”

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