By Cary Shuman
Eric Gaynor, executive director of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, will make his thoughts known on the Town Council’s vote on the implementation of a local option meals tax at a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday night at Town Hall.
The state meals tax will increase from 5 percent to 6.25 percent on October 1. Cities and towns have the local option of increasing the tax by 0.75 percent to a total tax of 7 percent.
“I will be speaking against the [0.75] local option increase at the council meeting on July 28 before the councillors vote on it,” Gaynor told the Sun-Transcript in an interview Wednesday. “We’re definitely opposed to it, and we’ve already corresponded with the council in writing and let them know our position.”
Gaynor said he doesn’t make a habit of speaking at council meetings, even though the opportunity is available at each meeting during the public comment portion of meetings. He said he tries to remain non-political and address the council only when an issue directly affects local businesses. He said he has already alerted all Chamber members that the council will be voting on the matter at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The Chamber feels that making meals in Winthrop more expensive would be very detrimental to our economy,” said Gaynor. “If we don’t adopt these taxes, it lets our hotels and restaurants know how valued they are in our town. They bring a lot of money into Winthrop. They employ a lot of people. It also lets others know that we want their business.”
Town Manager James McKenna included in his proposal to close the town deficit for the current fiscal year a recommendation that the town adopt the local meals tax. McKenna indicated that the town would generate approximately $70,000 for the General Fund if the measure were adopted.
“We need to maintain an aggressive and constant push to secure additional revenues as it seems inevitable that we’re going to be faced with having to revisit this [town] budget yet again sometime in the fall when more is known,” McKenna told the council in his proposal to close the fiscal year 2010 deficit. “To that end, I wholeheartedly support the passage of the two revenue measures [local meals tax and hotel tax] that are before the council.”
Town Councillor Richard Gill said he wanted to put the meals tax in the context of what it would cost a diner at a Winthrop restaurant.
“Based on a $50 dinner bill, you end up paying $52.50 for the 5 percent sales tax,” said Gill. “Beginning in August, that $52.50 becomes $53.13 because the state has already increased the tax to 6.25 percent. If we pass a local meals tax that goes up to 7 percent, that would add 37 cents to the bill. We’re talking about 37 cents on $50 bill, and I will support that [increase] because of what that 37 cents [will mean to the town.]”
Town Councillor James Letterie, who owns and operates Letterie’s Italian Market and Catering, and Town Councillor Russell Sanford hinted that they will vote against the measure, while Councillor Linda Calla said that even if the measure were adopted, Winthrop residents would still save money by eating at local restaurants as opposed to traveling to Boston and paying the tunnel or bridge tolls.
Council Vice President Joseph Ferrino Jr. said he will support the meals tax increase of 0.75, to 7 percent.
“The additional revenue will save police officers, firefighters, and potentially a couple of teachers,” said Ferrino. “We know we’re going to go through cuts in the fall and we need to do this. It’s 50 cents on a $50 bill. On a $5 submarine sandwich, it’s three cents. The people just voted for an override saying they want to keep their services. We want to continue to make sure that the people get the services they want.”
Asked to predict whether his colleagues will pass the measure, Ferrino said, “I don’t know right now. I think everybody will look at the numbers and make their own decision. I think it looks like a close vote.”
Town Council President Thomas Reilly explained the council must give residents advance notice about the council’s vote on the meals tax, thus necessitating his call and the council’s approval for a special council meeting on the issue on Tuesday, July 28.