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Slimantics: Restaurant tax agreement: Just one more small thing, please


Slim Smith



Someone asked me a while back when my columns appear in The Dispatch. The answer is, I don't know. 


Sometimes, I have an idea for a column for a particular day, but most of the time it doesn't work that way.  


Each morning, after we're finished with the day's edition, our management and reporters meet to discuss what we'll be working on for the next day's paper. After we've talked about that, the last portion of the meeting turns to what we'll have on our editorial page. Our goal is to have staff or local commentary in every edition. 


The preference is for a staff-produced editorial, an unsigned commentary that represents the newspaper's view on a topic.  


Some days, the news of the day doesn't seem to invite commentary of that kind. That is when the editorial idea we are kicking around arrives at the point where everybody agrees, "Well, we wouldn't go THAT far." 


But, of course, I will. 


Today is one of those instances. 


Since October, we've reported a lot on the struggle by the county, the city and the CVB to come up with an agreement that would keep the county-wide 2-percent restaurant tax alive. The tax expires at the end of June and without an agreement among the parties, our community would lose about $2 million in revenue, money spent for a variety of projects that bring tourism and economic development to our community. 


With each turn of the screw, when it seemed one entity or another was content to throw the baby out with the bath water, we've debated about whether to weigh in on the subject on the editorial page. Other than urging parties to come to the table and find a compromise, we have chosen to reserve judgment and let readers make up their own minds on the details of the agreement. 


It appears as though the restaurant tax impasse will come to an end this week. The CVB, after balking initially, is prepared to agree with the city's proposal that will direct $400,000 of the tax revenue to the city, including $50,000 in funds for four festivals - Market Street, Juneteenth, Seventh Street Heritage Festival and Southside/Townsend Community Festival. 


If that happens, the county and city will agree on a joint resolution to be presented to the Legislature to extend the tax. 


All's well than ends well, right? 


Not so fast. 


If we're going to sign off on an agreement we'll have to live with for the next four to 10 years, it's in our best interests to get this right. 


So I am proposing that before the city agrees to an inter-local agreement or the county and city sign off on their joint resolution, one small, hardly noticeable and entirely appropriate adjustment should be made: Diverting $12,500 of that money each year for the Columbus-Lowndes First Amendment Festival. I had originally proposed a Slim Smith Appreciation Festival (Hughlon Thornbury and Tony Clifton, co-chairmen), but the idea was voted down. A change to "Dispatch Appreciation Festival" earned only marginally more support. 


In the end, we all agreed that calling it the Columbus-Lowndes 1st Amendment Festival strikes a far more noble tone and protects certain people (I won't mention their names) against the charge of using a festival to promote their own interests, which we know never, ever happens with taxpayer-supported celebrations in this neck of the woods. 


As you know, the First Amendment is under attack on a daily basis by people of low character across the political spectrum. But the good people of Columbus and Lowndes County are fed up with these assaults on free speech. 


Now, for the low, low price of just $12,500, our local officials can say to the world: If you don't support the First Amendment, just shut the hell up! 


As far as I know, there is not a single First Amendment Festival in the entire country. I bet people would come from all over to exercise their rights to speak freely and eat fried foods impaled on sticks. 


This is a winner, folks. 


So I expect this provision to be added to the inter-local agreement. If not, I'll be forced to use my almost Svengali-like influence with state legislators to kill the bill that would renew the tax. 


It's pretty simple: 


The First Amendment wants its cut ... or else.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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