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Town Says No to Meals Tax

In a close Town Meeting vote, residents declined to add an excise tax on meals in town.

North Andover will not have an additional tax on meals.

At Tuesday night, residents voted 171-164 against Article 16, which proposed a 0.75 percent tax on meals in town.

Revenue from the tax was projected to be more than $241,000 for the remainder of this year and more than $413,000 each year afterward. But opponents have said that it would produce a burden on local businesses.

Resident Rebecca Abbott introduced the article, saying that the revenue would protect services and that the 139 other communities in the state that have adopted the meals tax have not seen a change in restaurant patronage.

At Town Meeting, voters debated over the article for more than an hour.

Selectmen Chair Dan Lanen drew laughter and applause from the crowd when he quipped: "You'll hear the argument that we pay this tax when we eat out in other towns. Well, you shouldn't be eating outside North Andover, so that's a bad argument."

One resident, noticably agitated, asked what role applause plays in Town Meeting, and the moderator agreed, asking residents to not clap.

Phil DeCologero, representing the North Andover Merchants Association, spoke in opposition to the tax as well.

"My opposition to this article is not a knee-jerk reaction to taxes," DeCologero said. "This is a tax that discourages business. It discourages people from shopping in town. Our property taxes will still increase if this passes."

Those endorsing the tax were equally passionate.

"I have a confession to make -- I have eaten outside of town," Mark DiSalvo said, greeted by more laughter. "Selectmen Lanen, you might want to confess as well. It might even feel good to vote no. None of those restaurants [in communities with meal taxes] closed because of the meals tax. Let's not kid ourselves. I like the idea that my friends and neighbors outside of town when they come here will contribute to our services, and I won't feel so guilty when I eat outside of town."

Resident Susan Haltmaier reminded the crowd that "The tax is on us, not on the restaurants. Every government service is paid for by taxes. The discussion is what type of tax."

But in the end, the meals tax proved to be a tough sell, and the article was defeated. Opponents breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

“This is the first time I found myself on the other side of the debate from my friends on the Democratic Town Committee,” DeCologero, a Democratic activist who also works at on the weekends, said after Town Meeting. “But for me this was a matter of principle.”

DeCologero was concerned that enthusiasm on the side supporting the tax would be strong enough to get supporters to Town Meeting and approve it, but he was relieved when the vote came out in his side's favor.

“Now North Andover is able to claim the mantle of having the lowest tax rate in the Merrimack Valley,” he said, adding that he hopes that banner will attract new businesses to town.

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