City to consider hotel, dining tax hike

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 4, 2008

NATCHEZ — Natchez Director of Tourism Walter Tipton said the time to capitalize on the ongoing growth in Natchez is now.

Tipton told a group of what he called the “voice of Natchez tourism” in a Thursday meeting the best way to capitalize on the area’s growth is to advertise the City of Natchez.

And to better advertise the city Tipton is proposing a tax increase that would more than double the city’s current $150,000 marketing budget.

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Tipton’s proposal would add one-half of a percent to the city’s current 1.5 percent restaurant tax.

“Raising the restaurant tax would put us on the same level as the rest of the state,” he told the meeting, consisting of city leaders and businessmen.

The new tax would also add a $1 per night, per person increased tax in all occupied hotels in the city.

“That would provide a tremendous boost to the budget,” he said.

In 2006 Natchez collected $966,389 in restaurant and hotel room tax revenue. Oxford collected $1,608,398 in the same year.

“We are missing out,” he said.

Tipton said he projects the new tax would provide approximately $460,000 per year for the city.

But to pass the tax, the Natchez Board of Aldermen must first pass a resolution that would present the idea to the legislature.

Alderman Jake Middleton said while he thinks the tax would be beneficial to the city, he said the board would not decide the matter until their meeting on Jan. 24.

“It all boils down to advertising Natchez,” he said.

And hotel developer Warren Reuther said Natchez could be doing more to advertise itself.

Reuther spoke at Thursday’s meeting and said he supported the tax.

“I thought they were joking when the said the budget was $150,000,” he said.

Reuther said the tax would funnel money directly into the city’s marketing budget and be of great benefit to the city.

“Natchez wins,” he said. “It’s simple.”

Reuther also said the tax would not hurt the pocketbooks of those who regularly dine out in the area.

“On a $10 meal, it adds a nickel,” he said.

Tipton added that now is an especially good time to bring the tax because Natchez is in a unique position to become an even bigger destination city.

Jackson is building a new convention center and the coast is getting billions in federal aid, Tipton said.

“If we act quickly we can beat them to the punch,” he said.

Tipton estimates within 24 months, the Gulf Coast and Jackson projects will be complete.

“If we can start getting the money in, we can start marketing,” he said.

Tipton said Natchez is also unique because of its location between Jackson and Baton Rouge.

“That makes it a great place for meetings,” he said.

Owner of the Devereaux Shields House Ronald Fry, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said he supports the tax.

“It would ultimately bring more business to the city,” he said. “It helps to celebrate Natchez.”