Southampton eateries face new tax

Published 8:28 am Wednesday, June 23, 2010

COURTLAND—Restaurants, eateries and other businesses across Southampton County are getting ready for the county’s new meals tax, which takes effect Thursday, July 1.

Voters narrowly approved a referendum on the meals tax, which will be 4 percent, in November.

Amy Carr, the commissioner of the revenue for the county, said her office has been in contact with at least 17 businesses that would be affected by the new tax. Carr encouraged anyone with questions to contact her office at 653-3030.

“We haven’t had any issues yet,” Carr said Tuesday. “This is a new revenue source for the county, and we’re trying to become as informed as possible as we work to implement it. We are still learning, and I’m sure that situations will be defined more precisely as they come up.”

Carr estimates revenue generated from the meals tax will be between $150,000 and $160,000 a year. The money will go toward the financing, construction and maintenance of county buildings, including schools.

The meals tax will apply to prepared food and beverages offered at restaurants, delicatessens and convenience stores, but will not apply to food and beverages sold from vending machines. Food prepared and sold in public school cafeterias, nursing homes and hospitals, or by churches, civic groups, fire departments and rescue squads will also be exempt.

The tax would also not be enforced in Boykins, Branchville, Capron, Courtland, Ivor and Newsoms unless the towns grant the county the authority to do so. None of the towns have opted to do so, Carr said.

Capron Town Clerk Dianna Sexton confirmed Tuesday that the town will begin levying its own 4-percent meals tax on applicable businesses on July 1. That tax will benefit the town.

Businesses were preparing for the tax to take effect.

“There’s not a whole lot to do, other than reprogramming the cash register and getting the wait staff used to the new tax rate,” Peter Pearson, owner of the For Pete’s Sake restaurant outside Courtland, said Tuesday. “It’s just part of life. You deal with it and you make the necessary changes.”

Asked if he thought the tax would hurt his business, Pearson said, “I don’t think it will affect us. I don’t think 4 percent is going to keep people away. It’s still less (tax) than in the City of Franklin.”

“I don’t agree with it, putting an extra tax on just the restaurants because there’s not but a handful to start with,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s going to generate a whole lot.”

Debbie Singleton, manager of Pino’s Pizza outside Courtland, agreed.

“I don’t think it will affect us much,” Singleton said Tuesday. “We have a pretty steady crowd here, and we have regular people all of the time. We’re not a pricey restaurant, but what people get is worth it.”

A public hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Monday, June 28, during the regular meeting of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors to discuss changing the due date for revenue from the meals taxes.

Carr said the original due date was set for the first business day of the month following each quarter. She is proposing having the tax revenue collected monthly and on the 20th day of the month. Revenue collected in July would be due on Aug. 20.

The meals tax proposal passed by just 71 votes in November. The final vote count was 2,307-2,236.

Most of Southampton’s neighbors — Greensville and Isle of Wight counties, and the cities of Franklin, Suffolk and Emporia — levy a meals tax. State law caps the maximum tax that a county can levy at 4 percent. By contrast, cities can go up to 6.5 percent and towns 8 percent. Both counties and all three cities charge the maximum tax allowed.