By THOMAS GRILLO
LYNN — Five surrounding communities have raised nearly $20 million since 2009 by adopting the local option meals tax and the City Council wants a share of it to keep layoffs at bay.
Some restaurant owners say they favor the tax because it will fund services at a time when the city is cash-strapped, while others are not so sure and some won’t say.
In a lopsided 10-1 vote last week, the panel opted to impose a .0075 percent tax on top of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax on meals. The new levy would add 75 cents to a $100 dinner bill, about 19 cents to a $25 meal and raise $700,000 annually for the city.
In 2009, the Legislature authorized communities to add the new fee on meals. While the sales tax goes to the general fund, the local option is given to the community to spend as it wishes. About half of the state’s cities and towns have adopted the change and have raised nearly $652 million.
Like other Massachusetts cities, Lynn has struggled to pay for schools and public safety. The Council said the time has come for the small increase that could do so much good.
“We are hurting financially, this will bring in some good revenue and the measure is long overdue,” said City Councilor-at-Large Buzzy Barton. “If I have breakfast at Brothers’ Deli, my $10 meal will only cost me another 8 cents.”
Robert Stilian, owner of the Old Tyme Italian Cuisine, said while no one is wild about a new tax, the amount is so small that it shouldn’t discourage anyone from eating out.
“At first I was quite upset, but I don’t think most people will even notice and I doubt it will have much of an impact on people’s decision to dine out,” he said.
Stilian noted that many other communities have adopted the tax.
“If it’s something that will benefit the city I understand why they’ve proposed it,” he said. “For restaurant owners, unfortunately we have to pass on the cost to customers.”
Taso Nikolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood and a candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council, said he’s for it.
“Given the city’s financial crisis, I favor it,” he said.
George Markos, owner of Brothers’ Deli, said if the city adopts the new tax, he hopes they will use the money for public safety and schools.
“I will contribute to anything that is good for the city,” he said. “But I would rather see the money spent on police, fire and schools because nothing is more important than safety and education.”
Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said the added revenue will reduce the chances of layoffs among city employees amid a budget crunch. He said Lynn is the only city in Essex County that has not opted to impose the additional tax.
Ward 6 Councilor Peter Capano said he favors the hike, and the sooner the better, as a way to restore cuts to the police and fire departments.
“We heard testimony from public safety officials at the last meeting of the necessity to fund police and fire,” he said. “I favor this.”
Councilor-at-Large Daniel Cahill said Lynn residents are already paying the tax when they eat out of town.
“Every other surrounding community has levied this tax upon us and we are just catching up,” he said. “We are under significant time constraints to implement this program to stave off layoffs in our police and fire departments.”
But Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is expected to veto the plan, setting the stage for an override.
“I can’t in good conscience agree to impose a new tax on Lynn residents less than two months after voters resoundingly rejected a proposed tax increase for two new schools,” she said. “I heard them loud and clear. To approve it is being tone deaf and not listening to what the voters clearly told us.”
Kennedy is not moved by the fact that the amount of the increase is so small.
“A tax is a tax,” she said. “We have to show the people of Lynn we are trying to live within our means as much as possible,”
Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi agreed and was the sole vote against the new tax.
“I am not inclined to support any tax,” he said. “In this instance, I was willing to support it if they designated the money towards public safety. But the city said they can’t do that and I can’t support it.
James Roumeliotis, owner of Superior Roast Beef, agrees. He said while the city may be hurting for cash, he’s not sure diners should be asked to pay more.
“I’d rather not have it, people are already being taxed enough,” he said.
Not everyone was willing to discuss the possible change. Thomas Dill, owner of the Lazy Dog Sports Bar, did not return a call seeking comment. Chris Rossetti of the Rossetti Restaurant declined comment and chef Matt O’Neil of the Blue Ox did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Thomas Grillo can be reached at email@example.com.