Editorial: Site-specific tax figures should remain private

We agree with the Benton Advertising and Promotion Commission’s decision to withhold specific tax receipts in its monthly reporting process. Information related to specific sales from individual restaurants, as well as information related to occupancy rates and room rates of specific hotels, is private and should remain that way.
The vote to release site-specific data at the February meeting ended in a 3-3 tie, with one A&P member absent. The result was that the data, which is private now, will remain that way. Regardless of what this data was to be used for, we oppose the precedent of putting monthly sales figures from individual private businesses into the public’s view. It’s nobody’s business how much a local restaurant does in monthly sales, as long as the 1.5 tax is levied, collected and paid as the law prescribes.
Following last month’s meeting, the Courier asked for aggregate proceeds from the special tax on restaurants and hotels. We received the monthly proceeds – which average around $80,000 a month – quickly and efficiently. They were broken down by industry, but not by specific restaurant or hotel. The information provided gave us exact dollars of how much the tax is generating, and whether it was sufficient to pay the debt to which it has been dedicated.
Moving forward, that information will be published in a story every month, and our readers will know how much money comes in, and how it is spent.
Just because the data is compiled by specific business, does not mean that it should be released that way. General sales tax figures are certainly not tracked by specific businesses, so why should hotel and restaurant taxes?
We certainly understand the need to market Benton to site selectors and outside companies looking to locate here. We should do everything we can to help, short of opening our monthly books to them. We have great advantages here they already know about, including good schools, an interstate highway, available land, and explosive population. If they need to see sales figures for private businesses in order to make the decision to come here, they need to obtain it elsewhere.
The A&P monies come from a tax imposed on specific businesses. It’s one thing to tax them, it’s another thing to use that tax to peek inside their financial statements. The A&P commission is right to not release this information.
We believe changes are needed to protect this information in the future. The city council and A&P Commission must act to make only site-specific figures permanently off-limits. Only then can those who pay the tax be comfortable that the information they submit won’t be abused, or used against them.
The make-up of the A&P Commission is sure to change, and the release of this information cannot hinge on the whim of seven members. As long as that is the case, the restaurant and hotel representatives in Benton will seek to dominate the board to protect themselves. Who can blame them?
Eventually, the A&P Commission’s focus will evolve. The event center will get built, and the community will need more diversified representation on the A&P Commission to maximize its potential.
The goal of the tax is to fill up local hotels and restaurants. That benefits everyone, especially when those monies come from outside the market.