‘Every day is a battle:’ Local restaurant owners voice opposition to potential new hospitality tax

Local restaurant owners are speaking out in opposition to a proposal that would give Jacksonville city council the ability to levy a new tax on products sold at restaurants and lodging establishments.


Josh Martino, President of Home Team Restaurant Group, which runs popular franchises like Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q, recalls the difficult stretch he and others in the hospitality faced during the pandemic.

“We didn’t know whether we’d come out with any restaurants left whatsoever,” said Martino.

Thankfully, all of his restaurants were able to pull through the shutdowns.

But soon after they were faced with new challenges like supply chain issues and high inflation.

“Any way our food gets to us, our supplies get to us, it has been ravaged and every day is a battle for those costs,” said Martino.

It’s why he and other local hospitality industry leaders are deeply concerned about a bill coming up for its first public hearing before Jacksonville City Council Tuesday evening.

The bill would ask the Florida Legislature to authorize the council to impose new taxes on food and beverage sales at restaurants and lodging establishments.

The tax for hotels and motels would be set at two percent, while restaurants that serve alcohol would be taxed at one percent.

The revenue from such a tax would be used to pay for services for the homeless and domestic violence victims.

“This is simply a tool in the toolbox for us to consider as one of the options to secure ongoing funding for our homeless programs,” said Councilmember Michael Boylan (R-District 6), who is cosponsoring the legislation.

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Boylan said the bill’s passage doesn’t guarantee the council would implement the tax, but he added Miami-Dade saw great success when it implemented a similar measure in the 1990s.

“The fact of the matter is it helps all of us by lifting up those in our neighborhood who need the most hope and help that they can get,” said Boylan.

And while Martino is empathetic to the stated goal of the potential tax, he argued Jacksonville isn’t Miami, and it will be local businesses and their customer base that end up paying the price.

“There’s only so much somebody is willing to pay for a pork sandwich or a barbecue meal before they say, you know what? I can’t afford to go there anymore or I can’t afford to go there as often. And that’s what we’re scared of. Genuinely scared of, losing customers losing business, and shutting down restaurants. That’ll have a tragic effect on our economy,” said Martino.

Councilmember Boylan and supporters of the proposal like Build Up Downtown have argued addressing the homeless issue in Jacksonville could yield a good return on investment, by making the city safer for consumers and businesses alike.

“The idea of making a sincere effort to finding long-term housing for folks who are living on the streets downtown would make that a much more appetizing way of coming to downtown. If you could say, look, I know it’s a safe clean space and I can go there and enjoy the downtown as I should,” said Boylan.

The bill is expected to be voted on by the full council later this month.

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