Greenwood considers food & beverage tax to help fund police, fire departments

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GREENWOOD, Ind. -- The Greenwood City Council is considering a new food and beverage tax to bolster staffing levels at city departments, specifically the police and fire departments.

The plan for a 1% food and beverage tax was made possible earlier this year when state lawmakers passed a bill that authorizes Greenwood and several other communities to impose such a tax. Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers and other city leaders hope the money raised by the tax will ultimately help increase the number of police officers and firefighters working throughout the city.

“The revenue generated – much of it from our city’s growing number of visitors – will provide critical funding for quality of life, economic development and public safety initiatives,” Myers said in a statement. “We’ve worked hard to maximize current revenue streams and create capital for essential public services, all while maintaining the state’s fourth lowest tax rate. We have been successful, but the additional funding will provide a much-needed boost on all fronts.”

According to guidelines from the Department of Justice and National Fire Protection Association, Greenwood has just over half the number of police officers and firefighters recommended for a city of its size. City council member and former Greenwood Police Chief Bob Dine says growth and development around the city have outpaced the hiring of new officers and firefighters.

“Usually, the police and fire departments are the last ones to get funding,” Dine said. “So it’s not a Greenwood thing, it’s just a trend.”

“We’re not growing taller with apartment buildings, we’re spreading out with housing developments,” Dine said. “And we need a fire station further on the east side of Greenwood, that is in need now.”

At 1%, the new tax would add $0.50 on a $50 dinner bill. Several Greenwood residents and visitors said Monday that’s a tax they could live with if it meant boosting public safety throughout the city.

“I’m never for a tax increase of any kind,” said Rosie Van Deventer. “But in this situation, I would have an opinion that, yeah, I think it’s a good idea.”

“The crime rate isn’t going down, unfortunately,” said Barbara White. “So I think we need to hire more police officers.”

The proposal comes just a few weeks after voters in the Center Grove school district rejected a property tax increase to improve school safety and mental health services.  

Greenwood resident Lori Hillstrom says the food and beverage tax seems to be more palatable because it is relatively small and optional.

“Property taxes always make people a little bit nervous when you talk about adding that,” Hillstrom said. “Food and beverage, it’s a choice to eat out.”

The plan would require some creative budgeting because the bill legalizing the tax requires that the revenue be used for parks, capital projects and economic development. Dine said the council should be able to redirect money from the parks budget to the police and fire departments, then replace the funding with money raised by the tax.

“This administration is trying to get public safety built back up, and we have quality police and fire, and we’ll be able to add to that,” Dine said.

A 1% city food and beverage tax would add to an existing 1% Johnson County food and beverage tax for Greenwood diners. That would equal the 2% food and beverage tax already in place in Indianapolis.

The proposal is scheduled for an initial vote before the council on December 2. If it passes, a second vote would take place December 9. If the measure is adopted by the council, the new tax could take effect 60 days later.

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