Sales taxes, funding for industry top local governments’ legislative wish lists

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 4, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; If city officials get their wish in this legislative session, Natchez voters will have a chance to decide on a 1-cent sales tax increase.

There is also a possibility the city will need local and private bills passed so it and other local bodies can jointly fund a recreation complex and the purchase of the Forks of the Road property, said Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith.

Getting more funds for incentive packages to attract new industries and maintaining the current level of funding for higher education and roads and bridges head county supervisors President Darryl Grennell’s wish list.

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Sales tax referendums

Under the Municipal Option Sales Tax bill, cities and towns would be allowed to hold referendums to levy up to 1 additional cent of sales tax to pay for any project spelled out on the ballot.

If the majority of those voting approved the tax, the proceeds would go directly to the city &045; not to the state first, as is now the case. The tax would be discontinued after the projects were completed.

According to current estimates, such a tax could bring in up to $3.5 million a year, Smith said. Revenues could be used to improve streets and drainage, make repairs to leaky city buildings.

Smith also said revenues could possibly be used to buy property at the Forks of the Road, a former slave market site supporters would like to see transformed into an interpretive center.

Voters would have the choice of whether or not to levy the tax.

&uot;It would allow us to do immediate improvements,&uot; Smith said. &uot;It would be easier and cheaper to do than a bond issue, Š and we wouldn’t have interest hanging over our heads.&uot;

Many of the city’s most recent projects, including the Natchez Convention Center, were paid for through bond issues.

Because tourists pay sales tax just as local residents do, &uot;the money would not all come from citizens, like property taxes would,&uot; he said.

Natchez currently has a 7-percent sales tax on retail purchases. The city adds a 3-percent tax on lodging and a 1.5 percent tax on restaurants for tourism promotion.

Smith said he is optimistic about the passage of the bill since Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and Speaker of the House Tim Ford told participants in this year’s Mississippi Municipal League convention they would support the measure.

Also, City Attorney Walter Brown is working to get the attorney general to approve an interlocal agreement under which the city, county and Natchez-Adams School Board would jointly fund recreation improvements.

But if that agreement is not approved, the city will have to seek a local and private bill through the legislature to give local bodies the authority to fund the project.

Recreational facilities local officials have proposed locating on an old beanfield just north of Natchez High School include ballfields, walking trails and picnic pavilions &045; a project referred to as the St. Catherine Creek Recreational Complex.

The project, as it now stands, could also include equestrian facilities, a swimming pool and improvements to existing tennis, baseball and softball facilities, among other things.

Brown has said the project would probably cost well in excess of $10 million.

In addition, a local and private bill might be needed for the city and county to jointly buy the Forks of the Road property. County supervisors voted in November to explore a cooperative funding agreement with the city for that project.

Economic incentives

Meanwhile, the state is struggling with a budget crunch &045; and, with this in mind, Grennell is urging state leaders to fully fund the Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s economic development agency.

Specifically, however, he wants to make sure that even more money is set aside during the next fiscal year for financial incentives to attract new industries to the area.

&uot;More money needs to be appropriated for the MDA to assist local governments with building the incentive package that’s needed for industrial growth,&uot; Grennell said, adding that he has no specific amount in mind.

If such funds are cut, Adams County will have to compete even harder at the state level to get its piece of the pie, he pointed out.

Other than that, Grennell hopes the state will maintain the current level of funding for state aid road projects and bridge improvements.

After all, the county is planning to improve the entrance to Alcorn State University’s and Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campuses with state aid funds.

&uot;We’re also looking at improving Morgantown Road in the upcoming fiscal year &045; but we need to make sure those (state) funds are in place,&uot; Grennell said.