Omaha City Council Tables Vote on Restaurant Tax Once Again


September 13th, 2016

The Omaha City Council meets Tuesdays at 2pm. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)

The Omaha City Council meets Tuesdays at 2pm. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)

At their meeting yesterday, Omaha City Council members once again debated whether to expand the City’s restaurant occupation tax to food trucks.

Council members began Tuesday’s meeting with two resolutions concerning tax levies. The first resolution authorized Omaha’s Transit Authority to levy just over 5 cents per $100 of valuation on taxable property. The second resolution authorizes the City to levy just under 48 cents per $100 valuation. Both resolutions passed unanimously and without anyone speaking out against them.

Council members then approved a plat agreement to create a new subdivision called Hana Hana, located east of the intersection at 67th and “F” Streets.

The Council then approved several liquor license applications before turning to their consent agenda, which contained three resolutions to create street improvement districts in several parts of the City. Council members continued the recently established practice of splitting the cost of the street improvements with the residents living along the affected streets.

Then the Council turned to Item 58 on their agenda, which was an issue they’ve tried to deal with several times before; whether to expand the City’s 2.5 percent restaurant occupation tax to food trucks.

Instead of supporting the measure outright Tuesday, Councilman Chris Jerram proposed an amendment which would lower the restaurant tax on all businesses—brick and mortar as well as food trucks– by a quarter of a percent, down to 2.25 percent.

Jerram said, “We’ve had great fanfare about the budget surpluses that we’ve been running around here, meaning the City’s been, in recent years, taking in millions of dollars in revenue, from taxes, more than what is needed to run the City government. $7 million this year, $12 million last year, millions more the year before.”

Jerram said if the City is taking in millions more than necessary, why not put that money back in the hands’ of the taxpayers?

Omaha’s 2017 budget, which has already been approved by the Council, estimates the City will collect about $300,000 in revenue from the restaurant tax. Omaha’s Finance Director, Steve Curtiss, said that $300,000 includes revenue collected from food trucks. In his words, everyone assumed this ordinance would have passed by now.

When Mayor Jean Stothert ran for election three years ago, she said she wanted to get rid of the restaurant occupation tax, but has yet to follow through on that intention.

Councilman Jerram did not publicly discuss his idea to lower the restaurant occupation tax before Tuesday’s meeting, which also happened to be the first day of the Mayor’s weeklong vacation; facts Councilwoman Aimee Melton made note of.

“I just have a few more questions in regard to something like this, because I’m not sure why this wasn’t brought up when we had the budget [meetings] so that potentially the Mayor, department heads and this Council could have some input into how do we reduce it, what do we reduce, or where do we put the money,” Melton said.

She continued, “I wish there would have been a little more discussion on this even at, oh I don’t know, pre-council this morning at 10:30. I understand this is more of a political move, but if we’re going to decrease taxes… I know that the mayor has even talked about it. We had many discussions about doing it. She had a property tax reduction this year that she chose to do over a restaurant tax reduction which I know was tough for her. I think what she did was she made a decision based on what was best for the City and not a political decision. I think today, doing something like this while knowing she’s out of town without even giving her the opportunity to make a phone call or talk to anybody about this, I think is a little disingenuous.”

The Council started talking about expanding the restaurant tax to food trucks months ago, when Council members Garry Gernandt and Franklin Thompson originally proposed the ordinance. Councilman Gernandt has repeatedly pointed out in that time even the Omaha Food Truck Association is in favor of the tax. On Tuesday, the Councilman seemed frustrated at the time it’s taken to get the ordinance passed.

Gernandt said, “Item 58 is to provide the applicability of mobile food vendors underneath the restaurant occupation tax. I’ll say it again, take Item 58 in its original form and we either vote it up, or we vote it down, one or the other.”

But the Council didn’t vote the issue up or down, instead Council members voted to layover the ordinance once again, so the Mayor’s office can have time to respond to Councilman Jerram’s idea to lower the tax by a quarter of a percent.

Another ordinance dealing with food truck regulations is also expected to be before the Council in the next few weeks.


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