Annapolis officials will seek state permission to impose a three-year food and beverage tax to pay for parking improvements in the traffic-choked state capital, city officials said yesterday.
The 1 percent tax -- a dime on a $10 restaurant tab -- would bring in about $1.5 million each year, Annapolis officials estimated, and would pay for contracted valet parking services, more buses and expanded water taxi programs.
"Our goal is to move people inside the city ... but not create more parking problems," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.
State legislators would need to grant Annapolis permission to create the tax, which would be tacked onto an existing state restaurant levy, but the city council would have to craft and approve the necessary legislation.
While Moyer and others say the program will help ease parking and traffic woes, other leaders and merchants worry that taxes could drive away business from Annapolis. State Sen. John C. Astle, a Democrat who represents the area, said, "If all things are equal, I'm going to go to the cheaper restaurant."
The proposal comes at a critical time in the city's transportation planning.
More than 30 road projects are scheduled to begin near the capital.
They include upgrades of the Weems Creek and College Creek bridges, which are crossed by nearly 70,000 cars a day, making Rowe Boulevard one of the most-traveled streets in the city.
There are an estimated 2,500 parking spaces in the city and "parking has always been a problem. Now it's extra important," said Bob Burdon, president and chief executive officer of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.
The city's latest plan is based on a similar scheme used in Ocean City.
Though the tax would not generate enough money to build a parking structure, it could fund at least three additional buses and a 36-passenger water taxi that would take passengers between downtown Annapolis and Eastport.
The city also would contract with valet companies that would park cars in lots away from downtown, and would hire security guards to patrol the lots.
Visitors now can park at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and take a free shuttle into downtown Annapolis.
A public relations program would make the public aware of parking problems.
But yesterday's proposal received a chilly initial reception.
"I'm not sure this is the solution to the problem. This is no-tax time. Nobody wants to hear that word," Astle said.
Some business owners also were skeptical.
"I don't know about another tax," said Pam Finlay, owner of the Sean Donlon Restaurant and Irish Bar on West Street. "Taxes don't scream `business-friendly.' I think they could do other things."
During the legislative session that starts next week, the city also plans to ask the state for a $350,000 state bond bill to renovate the Eastport fire station and financial help to bury utility lines and for brick sidewalks near the State House.