County may seek permission to impose meals tax

Henrico County officials plan to petition the General Assembly in the coming months for the right to institute a meals tax in the county next year.

County Manager Virgil Hazelett suggested the idea to the five-member Board of Supervisors during a work session tonight, and it met with the board's unanimous support.

Hazelett, who is retiring in January, told supervisors that the county must find new sources of revenue to combat falling revenue from both real estate taxes and the state government.

"We lost $96 million in Fiscal Year 2011," he said. "I think it's time that we try to do this, for the future of Henrico County."

Implementation of a 4-percent meals tax would generate an estimated $18 million annually for the county, Hazelett told the board.

"As the economy improves, it will only increase," he said, while noting that about 40 percent of all meals purchased in the county are bought by non-Henrico residents.

State law permits the governing bodies of any Virginia city or town to enact a meals tax by a unanimous vote, but counties are required to put the issue to voters in a referendum. Henrico did so in 2005, but its proposed 4-percent meals tax was defeated by just 151 votes.

Hazelett's proposal to the General Assembly would require that implementation of such a tax be approved by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors, to mirror the existing requirement of cities and towns.

There are 204 localities – including 45 counties – in Virginia that have a meals tax, Henrico's director of management and budget Brandon Hinton told the board. Five of those counties were granted the right by the General Assembly to impose such a tax, while voters in the other 40 approved the measure.

Richmond collects a 6-percent meals tax on all prepared meals purchased in the city.

Hazelett conceded that such a plan would not come without some controversy but suggested that the timing was right to make the attempt. Henrico and Arlington counties are the only two in Virginia that maintain their own roads, and Arlington has a meals tax.

"We are the only locality that maintains its own road system and lacks the ability to impose this tax," Hazelett told the board. "You are going to have difficult with this budget. You need to consider this – the General Assembly needs to consider this."

The board is expected to present the request to Henrico's General Assembly delegation at a Nov. 7 dinner.

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