Omaha restaurants that owe the city back restaurant taxes should make arrangements to pay up, or risk losing their liquor licenses.

The City Council on Tuesday revised the city’s restaurant tax ordinance so the city can consider nonpayment of the tax when recommending whether the state should renew a liquor license.

Current law prohibits the city from making delinquent payment of the tax a factor in license renewals. Mayor Jean Stothert is expected to sign the change, which the city’s Finance Department sought.

The city needs leverage to encourage restaurants to enter into payment plans to catch up on back taxes, actions short of requiring immediate payment, council member Rich Pahls has said.

That step risks closing the business and harming a significant city revenue stream, restaurant owners have said. The city expects to collect $34.6 million from the restaurant tax this year.

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Restaurant owners interviewed by The World-Herald have said such a measure could be effective because of the importance of liquor sales to restaurants’ profitability. But many also said they want the measure to be used as a last resort.

No one spoke in opposition to the change during last week’s public hearing. The measure passed the council Tuesday with little comment and a unanimous 7-0 vote.

The city was owed about $350,000 in back restaurant taxes from 107 restaurants at the end of June, based on Finance Department records.

City finance officials have said several restaurants changed their names and ownership groups in an effort to avoid paying the tax. Some businesses owe tens of thousands of dollars.

The Finance Department already posts online a list of restaurants that owe back restaurant taxes. This gives the city another tool, council President Chris Jerram said.

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