Omaha Council Closes 2 Bars, Puts off Food Truck Tax Again
August 10th, 2016
For a second time, Omaha City Council members delayed a vote on whether to apply the City’s restaurant tax to food trucks.
Councilman Chris Jerram began Tuesday’s meeting with an invocation about the upcoming school year, which for some districts starts this week.
“That made me think,” Jerram said, “perhaps we all better take a moment and think about the school year, the students, the teachers, all the staff and administrators that make the schools run so well, and to watch out for children as they make their way to and from school.”
The first few items on the agenda dealt with Omaha Public Schools and its building of the new Oakdale Elementary School on West Center Road.
Troy Meyerson, a lawyer representing OPS, told council members Oakdale is the first of several new projects planned for OPS’ district 66. Nobody spoke out against the plan.
One woman did speak out however, against a bar she says shouldn’t be selling alcohol.
Regina Wright told Council Members the owners of the Soulful Lounge, 3825 North 30th Street, should be required to resubmit their liquor license application.
Wright said a string of recent shooting’s, which included one man being found shot inside the club, should be enough to require the bar to submit a long-form application.
Wright said, “[The shooting] kind of scared my kids a little bit, and me. I don’t think they should have a liquor license at that location ever again. It’s just not safe; I don’t feel it’s safe there.”
The Council unanimously agreed with Wright, and will require the Soulful Lounge to resubmit its application for a liquor license; a lengthy process which will almost assuredly end in a denial for the bar’s owner, Taneshia Horton.
The owners of Jefferson’s Restaurant will also remain out of business. The bar’s owners haven’t filed taxes in a year, and were applying for a change of location to their liquor license from 17520 Wright Street to 510 South 13th Street. The Council unanimously denied that change.
After several weeks to think about the Mayor’s 2016 annexation package, the Council consented to approve the plan—which adds around 6000 people to Omaha’s population.
An ordinance to extend the City’s 2.5 percent restaurant tax to food trucks however, met a bumpy road once again.
Outside the legislative chambers, the City is fighting a lawsuit with the owner of Michael’s Cantina, who says if his restaurant is paying a restaurant tax, food trucks should too.
Councilman Franklin Thompson said, “We’re lucky we didn’t get sued three years ago on this. We’ve really been riding on thin ice. It’s an unequal application of the law and the person who is filing this lawsuit really didn’t want to.”
The president of Omaha’s Food Truck Association told Council members numerous times his organization is in favor of paying the tax.
Instead of approving the ordinance though, Council members voted to maybe make a decision in five weeks, when another ordinance dealing with food truck regulations could be written and before the Council. That ordinance will address hours of operation for food trucks as well as location.
Councilwoman Aimee Melton said, “I would tend to agree with Councilman (Chris) Jerram and Councilman (Pete) Festersen, that we need to know what those regulations are, so we know exactly how to define the restaurant for the purpose of having this tax imposed.”
The discussion at Tuesday’s meeting over the two separate ordinances, one which is yet to be written, had some asking what one has to do with the other.
According to Cassie Paben with the Mayor’s office, the answer is “nothing.”
“The Law Department has said that they’re really two separate issues,” Paben said. “The tax part of it, and I would differ to [City Attorney Paul Kratz], the tax part of it is part of the ongoing lawsuit the legal department is currently defending. But in terms of how that relates to the ordinance other than they’re both dealing with the same entity—that’s really the only common denominator. There’s no correlation, there’s no interplay between them. There’s nothing that has to do with the tax that has to do with the ordinance that we’re doing. They’re really two separate issues.”
It’s been four years since the city of Omaha instituted the restaurant tax. The next time the Council could decide if that tax applies to food trucks, is September 13th.
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