The Vigo County Council on Monday unanimously adopted a 1 percent Vigo County food and beverage tax.
All five council members who were present — Vicki Weger, Mike Morris, Bill Thomas, Brendan Kearns and Aaron Loudermilk — voted in favor of the tax. Council members Tim Curley and Jim Mann were absent.
The county, after notifying the Indiana Department of Revenue, can begin collecting the tax on Sept. 1. It will support a new downtown convention center and is expected to generate between $1.2 million and $2.1 million annually. It expires Dec. 31, 2043.
The 1 percent tax applies to restaurant meals, prepared meals, hot bar items, buffets and prepared deli items. It does not apply to groceries, unprepared food and catering services, but it does apply to catered food.
Revenue from the tax will go to the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board and may be used for the acquisition, construction, improvement, maintenance and financing of a new convention center. Under state law, funds can also be applied for a facility principally used for convention or tourism-related events or the arts and for way-finding improvements.
Kearns said he ran for office focusing on quality of place.
“Over the two weeks that we were traveling [on vacation], I looked at things that would be great for this community. A steamboat museum on the Wabash River at Fairbanks park — man that would be cool,” Kearns said. “I have been supportive of this tax since day one, mainly because it is a funding mechanism to help our quality of place.
“I am not endorsing a particular project. I think that we could use a convention center and I think it would be a beneficial draw to our community,” Kearns said.
“Having a successful convention center can help lead toward getting a steamboat museum along the Wabash River. It could lead toward a reason for someone to invest in a tour boat” along the Wabash River, he said.
“My vote is in support of the opportunity to provide the funding mechanism to enhance our quality of place.”
County Commissioner Jon Marvel, who serves as president of the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board, read a list of community leaders in support of the project, including Indiana State University President Deborah Curtis.
That lead Weger said to say, “I was really heartened to hear that President Curtis has endorsed this fully and maybe that will go a long way to repair the ... whole storm that we had over the convention center” which originally was to be attached to ISU’s Hulman Center.
Weger said that while the county will not host the Academy Awards at a new convention center, it can get conventions for state associations. “It can show we have a really mighty fine place here ... and they will spread the word,” Weger said.
Morris said the County Council several years ago suggested putting $10 million toward a convention center in a partnership with ISU, Terre Haute and the Terre Haute Convention & Visitors Bureau, with the county, he said, having little hope of a food and beverage tax.
“It is interesting now we don’t have a partnership [with ISU] or a plan [for a convention center] as of yet ... but we have the ability to get a new tax,” Morris said. “Saying that, I believe that we have all seen plans implemented across the county. Therefore, I believe this [convention center] would be a positive thing for the community, Vigo County and the surrounding communities.”
Thomas said he, too, thinks a convention center “will stimulate hopefully the downtown area ... and start moving our city and county forward.”
In a public comment period prior to the vote, Terre Haute resident Dennis Burskey said he opposed the tax, which he thinks will cause people to tip less money to waitstaff.
C. Dwayne Malone, pastor of the First Free Will Baptist Church, said he hopes funds in the future can be designated for plans to develop sporting, entertainment and businesses in blighted areas along the 13th Street corridor.