The City of Greensboro often makes requests of Guilford County government for cooperation on a wide variety of issues.
The latest such discussion – still in the very early stages – could lead to the city asking the county for help in implementing a prepared food tax.
That would be a new tax on dine-in and take-out food and drinks sold at restaurants and bars in Greensboro. The new tax would be over and above the sales tax currently charged on restaurant meals and related food items.
Sources in Guilford County government said that City of Greensboro leaders have initiated conversations to explore the willingness of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to allow Greensboro to levy a prepared food tax in order to help the city pay the costs of the Steven Tanger Center and similar entertainment and nightlife initiatives.
The move would require Greensboro to get cooperation from the NC General Assembly and the Guilford County commissioners.
NC House Majority Whip Jon Hardister said on Thursday, Jan. 26, that he had “caught wind” of some initial discussions between the city and the county but said he had not received any requests for action by the state legislature.
“I have not had any official discussions,” Hardister said.
Hardister also said it was his understanding that, when a city would like to implement a prepared food tax, one option is for the city council to vote to put the matter on the ballot.
Another option, he said, is for the city to request for the NC General Assembly to grant the county’s Board of Commissioners the option of voting the tax into existence without putting the matter on a ballot.
Advocates of the prepared food tax say it has raised significant money in other large cities in the state and has helped support important entertainment and nightlife projects that in turn get more people out to restaurants.
Former Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who runs a restaurant supply business, said on Thursday that he was aware of the move by the city and he added that he was greatly disturbed by this initiative. He said he was totally opposed to it.
Conrad stepped down as a Guilford County commissioner in early December after serving two terms, but he said an attempt such as this is nearly enough to get him back into politics just so he can fight it.
Conrad, a conservative Republican, served on the Board of Commissioners for years with Carolyn Coleman, a very liberal commissioner who passed away one year ago.
“There were a whole lot of things we disagreed on,” Conrad said, “But on this we saw 100 percent eye to eye.”
During her two decades on the board, Coleman spoke out frequently about the evils of regressive taxes like food taxes that she said were huge burdens on families already struggling to pay the bills.
Conrad said that struggling families often have no choice but to eat out or get takeout.
He also said it’s not right to make an end-run around the voters.
“If you want the tax, put it on the ballot,” Conrad said, adding that he believes city leaders don’t see that as an option because area residents have shown that they will vote down a sales tax increase every time it shows up on the ballot.