Payson Mayor Ray Schum pronounced a proposed 2-percent bed, board and booze tax "dead on arrival" at the outset of the Payson Town Council meeting Thursday, but tax opponents filed up to the microphone to protest anyway.
"This was not an attempt to get into your pocketbooks," the mayor told the audience. "That was not it at all. And maybe we were totally wrong about how we were doing this ..."
Todd Zelinski, owner of The Small Cafe, presented the council with petitions that he said had been signed by more than 5,000 Rim country residents who opposed the tax.
"These are people who live in this community and the surrounding community who would like to have their voices heard," he said.
Then he orchestrated a parade of some 15 speakers including restaurant owners, managers and patrons who each addressed the council on an aspect of the issue. While most of their arguments had been voiced before, Joseph Yuhas, executive director of the 3,000-member Arizona Restaurant Association, presented a fresh perspective.
"The truth is," he said, "people are eating out more often because of lifestyle, not because ... they are choosing dining out as a form of entertainment. I can assure you that the measure before you tonight is not simply a tax on restaurants it's a tax on your residents."
Yuhas also pointed out that most Arizona towns tax restaurant and bar patrons at a much lower rate than the proposed Payson tax, which would have raised the total tax to 10 percent.
"When you look at the current taxes that are paid by those individuals who dine out, Tombstone is at 8 percent, Bisbee is at 8 percent, Cottonwood is 7.9 percent, ... Holbrook at 8.5 percent, Jerome at 8.7 percent, Kingman at 7.25 percent, Lakeside 8 percent, Sedona 8.7 percent, ... in Flagstaff, we're at 9.31 percent, Paradise Valley, which is the wealthiest community in Arizona, is at 7.1 percent, Scottsdale at 6.9 percent, and Phoenix is at 7.5 percent.
Following the speakers, several council members addressed the more than 100 people who packed the council chambers and the hall outside. Most expressed their opposition to the tax.
After a motion to kill the tax passed unanimously, Councilmember Hoby Herron lauded those who had become involved in the political process.
"I'm highly encouraged by the citizens getting together and voicing their objections," he said.
"I had a hard time convincing some of my fellow councilmembers that there was a boiling point building up in the community, and you helped me enforce that."