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County Council Approves Food & Beverage Tax to Fund Convention Center Expansion

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The Monroe County Council approved a one-percent food and beverage tax to help fund the expansion of the Bloomington-Monroe County Convention Center. In a special session last night, Council member Geoff McKim voiced his support.

McKim said he’s motivated by the prospect of a more vibrant downtown that restores balance between locals, students and visitors.

Reading from the Indiana state code, County Attorney Michael Flory described how the tax is applied.

The convention center expansion is currently estimated to cost $72 million and would include a new Embassy Suites Hotel. The cost of the hotel is expected to be borne by a private hotel developer.

The Council heard two hours of public testimony both for and against the food and beverage tax. Proponents of the tax cite the benefits a larger convention facility, including job creation and downtown business stimulated by tourism. County Commissioner Amanda Barge said the community has waited too long for an expansion, and pitched the benefits to local nonprofits.

Opponents say other funding options have not been fully explored. Some see the tax as regressive and a burden on low income people.

Forrest Gilmore, director of the Shalom Community Center, said he tentatively supports the tax and cited the 260 jobs that market studies predict will be created. Gilmore doesn’t believe the one percent tax will negatively impact poor people.

Council member Lee Jones was among those who would not support the tax.

Council member Marty Hawk also opposed the tax. Hawk favors increasing the innkeepers tax instead.

Before the council’s vote, Council President Ryan Cobine said even if the tax is passed, a variety of factors could derail the expansion. Cobine said there are scenarios under which the tax could be repealed.

The Council passed the tax by a four-to-three vote. The tax will take effect on February 28th, 2018.

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