Tourism-based tax proposed for Savannah’s ‘to-go cup’ zone

Tourism-based tax proposed for Savannah's 'to-go cup' zone

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A tourism-based fee on purchases made inside the City of Savannah's to-go cup zone is back up for serious consideration.

The flat fee would add 25 cents to every purchase of $10 or more made inside the zone, which covers the Historic District, with only grocery stores, gas stations and certain services being exempt.

According to Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach, the idea of a tourist-based fee has been kicked around for more than a decade, and more seriously over the past four years.

Mayor DeLoach is setting his sights on getting this proposed flat tax added to the agenda before the end of the year. In fact, he held meetings Monday morning with city staff to see what it would take to get the plan into action that, for years, hasn't taken off.

"Anytime you introduce an additional cost on anything, that's your hang-up," Mayor DeLoach said.

The tax - should it come to fruition - is projected to rake in nearly $4 million annually, and be used to create more Savannah Ambassador positions as well as bolster police presence. Mayor DeLoach says that money raised in the to-go cup zone would stay there.

"I'm excited about it because it doesn't put the cost on the taxpayer that lives here. If he goes out and eats, he could do that in this area. But it really ties it to the to-go cup area," said Mayor DeLoach.

He says he's gotten good feedback from leaders in the tourism and downtown business communities. But not all I spoke to Monday are necessarily on board with the proposal.

"For me, I get a lot of feedback already, because my prices are 'high.' But when you add the 25 cents to essentially every check that I have, I'll get even more complaints," said The Funky Bruch Café owner, Deanne Skinner.

Skinner says while her customers might not be too excited about the extra quarter, they should be about where the money is slated to go: public safety.

"That is crucial, that is a crucial move, which it is in our area to benefit us if we're the ones that will take the heat from customers. It needs to come back to the area and help keep us safe," Skinner said.

The goal is to get the proposal onto the Savannah City Council agenda before the end of the year. We'll keep a close eye on this story and bring you any new information as we get it.

A 2015 Visit Savannah Tourism Study showed a jump in visitor spending. From 2014 to 2015, it was up 7 percent.

Total visitors increased as well, to 13.7 million in 2015.

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