Bellevue City Council President Don Preister wants to consider borrowing an idea from Omaha when balancing the budget: the restaurant tax.

A 2.5 percent tax on restaurant food would add about $1 million a year to Bellevue's coffers, according to Finance Director Richard Severson. That would match Omaha's restaurant tax.

That could help ease a $5 million shortfall in next year's $68 million budget proposal.

City Administrator Dan Berlowitz had suggested a property tax increase as well as steep cuts to city services to balance the budget.

The City Council has the final say on the budget, including tax increases.

The council was scheduled to hear from the public about the restaurant tax — as well as the rest of the budget — at its meeting tonight.

But the meeting has been canceled because so many council members would be absent that they would lack a quorum, according to city spokesman Phil Davidson. That means the council couldn't vote on resolutions or ordinances.

The city announced the cancellation Monday, citing “personal situations.”

The council was scheduled to vote on the budget two weeks from now, the last meeting before the Sept. 20 deadline to submit the budget to the state auditor.

The city has not rescheduled tonight's council meeting.

The six-person council has been one member short since March, when Ward 1 councilman Scott Houghtaling resigned.

Three council members and the mayor clashed over how to fill the spot for months. Eventually, they agreed to hold a special election, which will take place Oct. 15.

In two weeks, council members will present their changes and approve the final budget.

Preister had asked Berlowitz to include discussion of a restaurant tax along with the budget hearing.

“I believe the prepared food sales tax needs to be a part of the overall budget process at the public hearing next Monday,” Preister wrote to Berlowitz.

In Omaha, then-Mayor Jim Suttle proposed the tax in 2010. Originally it was projected to bring in $15 million each year, but ended up netting the city $23.8 million its first full year.

The Omaha restaurant tax encountered some opposition at first, but much of that died down after it became clear that restaurants were not losing business over it. However, new Mayor Jean Stothert says she has hopes to eventually end the tax.

Bellevue Chamber of Commerce President Jim Ristow said he's not sure how Preister's proposal would affect Bellevue restaurants.

Though heartened that Omaha businesses didn't seem to be hurt by the tax, he said he wants to look into whether Bellevue restaurants have benefited from the Omaha tax.

Ristow said he's going to encourage restaurant owners to tell council members what they think.

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