Braintree’s Town Council on Tuesday approved a 0.75 percent local meals tax, a measure that is estimated to rake in nearly $1 million a year for the town.
The issue has been a controversial one here, with members of the business community initially up in arms about the proposal. Yet debate was largely absent from the Tuesday meeting, where councilors voted 6-to-1 for the tax, which takes effect July 1.
“We decided this year that we felt this was an appropriate revenue stream that could truly enhance the town of Braintree in terms of capital dollars, tangible benefits, and an enlarged comprehensive plan for capital improvements we hope to make in the town,” said Mayor Joseph Sullivan to the council prior to the vote.
The mayor’s proposal would allocate the money to capital projects, such as a new security system in all of the town’s schools, capital upgrades at the East Braintree Fire Station, continued upgrades to the Police Station, projects at Thayer Public Library, and a series of upgrades at Daughraty Gym to enable the space to be used as an Emergency Center.
“A number of projects we feel can be supported with this capital program. The foundation for that is incorporation of the meals tax,” Sullivan said.
The tax would be on top of the state’s 6.25 percent tax on meals, which was increased from 5 percent in fiscal 2010. The tax applies to meals served at restaurants and such places as taverns, theater snack bars, takeout counters, and food trucks.
While a number of South Shore communities have installed the meals tax, Braintree has long held off.
The wait was much to the chagrin of Councilor John Mullaney, who has pressed the town to approve the meals tax two times previously.
With final approval on Tuesday night, Mullaney was congratulated on his success, yet the councilor said this wasn’t a personal victory for him.
“I don’t consider tonight to be a victory for me, but for the town. It will be used to make Braintree a better place,” Mullaney said. “My theme is working together for a better Braintree, everyone contributes and makes it a better place. This is not my victory tonight.”
Mullaney said that even the approval of the tax came with some compromises. The councilor would rather have liked to see the money used to cut back property taxes, or eliminate the trash fees – a $1.5 million cost to the town.
In subsequent years, the council should also look to use the meals tax revenue towards unfunded retirement liabilities or health care costs.
“I work to compromise, I would have been happy for the meals tax to go into the general budget, but the Braintree Chamber [of Commerce] said they’d support me if it went to capital planning,” Mullaney said.
Mullaney said he might not be here in subsequent years to push for these types of changes.
“I leave it to the council,” he said.
While Mullaney disagreed about how the money should be spent, Councilor Sean Powers, the sole dissenting vote, wished the tax had not passed at all.
“I applaud the mayor for what he’s trying to do, but this is a matter of Beacon Hill not making local aid a priority and shifting the burden onto local towns,” Powers said.
Powers said Braintree’s capital plan was already aggressive, with a focus on roads, public safety, and education.
“It’s supposed to be a needs list, not a wish list,” he said.