ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - It's hard to find an old-fashioned soda fountain in Maryland these days, but the state comptroller's office says a nearly century-old fee for the mom and pop joints means all who sell fountain beverages in 2009 need to pay up.
In a March memo, Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot's office put circuit court clerks on notice that a soda fountain is not just a place for ice cream sodas and root beer floats. A soda fountain, the memo said, means "a soft drink dispenser found in fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and other types of retail establishments." The code authorizes the state to collect a $25 annual fee for most soda fountains, $10 from those in communities of less than 1,000 or $60 from Baltimore City establishments.
"Until the legislature clearly defines a 'soda fountain,' since the meaning of the term has changed since the law was enacted, a soda fountain license must be issued and applicable fees charged to all retail establishments which have a soda fountain, i.e. soft drink dispenser," the memo said.
The memo also said the state could collect the fee for each soda fountain located in the restaurant, meaning an establishment with separate dispensers could be paying multiple fees.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland estimates there are roughly 9,600 restaurants in the state, but Franchot's office says there were only 75 soda fountain licenses in 2008, 23 of which were in Anne Arundel County. Joe Shapiro, Franchot's spokesman, said the comptroller's office issued the memo to remind counties of the fee because there has been uneven enforcement of the license requirements.
Restaurateurs, however, suspect they're being asked to cough up now to help plug the state's massive budget deficit.
"It seems a little ridiculous to start trying to enforce a law that was enacted in 1916 when it hasn't been enforced for years," said David McCallum, co-owner and executive chef of Tilghman Island Inn. "But I guess in hard times people search for revenue wherever they can get it."
Anne Arundel County Delegate Nic Kipke is pushing a repeal of the law passed in 1916, which he estimates could cost Maryland restaurant industry $1.5 million annually.
"If we're going to start charging restaurants this fee, what's next?" Kipke said. "Fees for every table, every chair, every cash register?"
Don't give them ideas, please.................