With caveats, food and beverage tax worthy of review

Visit Minot’s proposal for a one percent sales on food and beverage to help buoy the convention and visitor bureau’s efforts to stay competitive in the tourism industry is well worth a full and earnest review by the Minot City Council – and the taxpayers who would foot the bill.

The proposal would reportedly raise an additional $1 million for Visit Minot. Visit Minot’s arguments are based entirely on logic: tourism development does cost money, their budget has dropped dramatically and the organization has made as many realistic internal cuts as possible. Need cannot be questioned. Ironically, both the flood and the Bakken boom set Visit Minot back – both made it virtually impossible to attract major events since both occurrences, the good and the bad, simple took too many hotel rooms off the practical market.

Visit Minot’s income stream has fallen from $1.1 million to less than $450,000 with an economic shift that has caused lodging and rental car taxes to plummet. Visit Minot is funded by those two income sources.

Barring some action, Minot faces a dim future in which few people will seek us out except on the occasion of famed events such as the North Dakota State Fair and Hostfest. Action is required and this is not the most difficult way to address the situation.

Minot Daily News is intimately aware of the mistakes of some at Visit Minot in past years. But those are past years, not today. The organization is among the most important components of our economic development drivers in town.

Additionally, Minot Daily News more than a year ago proposed that some combination of government and community groups hire a professional event planner. To date, the need for such a professional has only increased. However, MDN recognizes the budget constraints on local government and community groups.

Visit Minot has a committee developing a plan to present to the council, possibly by December. The committee also will be hosting a meeting for the food and beverage industry to present information and garner feedback.

Without having see the plan – which is key – Minot Daily News supports the idea of a food and beverage tax to support tourism development. This very rare – reiterate very rare occasion – in which this newspaper supports a tax increase of any type is a testament to the importance of the occasion.

Still, this tentative endorsement comes with caveats. One is that Visit Minot remains independent of other institutions. Should it ever fall under the auspices of the chamber of commerce (a la Devils Lake) then the tax is wildly inappropriate because of other available funding streams. Two, and most importantly, as part of its presentation to the city council, Visit Minot must provide guidelines and parameters to gauge success. The council and the public must be presented with benchmarks and projections by which to judge the success or failure of the tax. These guidelines must not originate with the city – not their area of expertise and to pretend otherwise is bollocks. Only Visit Minot is positioned to say that, as a result of this tax, at the very least be able to applaud X and Y. Let the council and public then hear the argument – and hopefully support the plan.

If Minot is going to raise any tax, taxpayers need to know what to expect. Gone are the days when taxpayers are willing to accept “well, without this tax things could have been worse) – the epitomy of government-speak. That is not acceptable to the public or to the public’s voice in Minot Daily News.

It isn’t easy for an institution like MDN to support any tax increase. However, those who claim that the city budget can provide for all needs, including tourism development, just by cutting “waste, fraud and corruption” are expressing one of the worst over-simplifications in recorded history. Dead wrong. Dishonestly wrong.

Our financial situation is not a matter of mismanagement today. It’s an economic reality. The sooner we can understand the difference between rhetoric and reality, the better.

The proposed tax, conceptually, is entirely reasonable and would have ramifications that echo throughout every aspect of the local economy.

That’s how it should be. MDN welcomes Visit Minot’s proposal.