New tax still on proposal

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NATCHEZ — Tourism officials plan to go ahead with a request for an increase in restaurant and hotel taxes, despite a request from aldermen last week that the restaurant portion be dropped.

The proposal will be presented to the Natchez Board of Aldermen for approval at their regular meeting at 11 a.m. today.

At a work session last week, aldermen expressed concern over adding a tax that would affect locals. The proposed tax also includes an occupancy charge for hotels.

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The hotel charge, or occupancy fee, did not receive much outcry at the last meeting. This occupancy fee would charge $1 per occupied room.

The current restaurant tax is 1.5 percent, and Walter Tipton, director of Natchez Convention Center, proposed at the last board meeting the tax be increased to 2 percent.

Tipton said if the restaurant tax does not pass, the hotel charge will be increased to compensate.

Tipton said Natchez taxes are lower than comparable communities he has studied.

Tipton has researched multiple cities in Mississippi and his research has shown that towns like Jackson, Tunica, Tupelo, Hattiesburg and Oxford have restaurant taxes that are either 2 or 3 percent.

Thousands of dollars could be made from the tax increases, Tipton pointed out, and with this money can come more promotion of Natchez.

Director of Tourism Connie Taunton said increased marketing will have a overwhelmingly positive economic impact on Natchez.

With this additional revenue, the city can market itself and bring in more tourism, which will ultimately benefit the city, Tipton said.

“It’s been proven for every $1 spent on marketing and advertising, $10 to $13 come into the community,” Tipton said.

A “multi-faceted” marketing committee could be formed with the money. This committee would include members of the restaurant, hotel and casino industry as well as members from garden clubs and the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, Tipton said.

With more money, Natchez could advertise itself not only regionally, but nationally.

The time for marketing is now, Tipton said.

New developments coming such as hotels, casinos and walking trails need to be advertised, Tipton said.

“With all those new products and things to sell, we need to market,” he said. “If we want tourism to be successful, we have to market.”

By supporting tourism, he said, it’s supporting the community and offering employment opportunities.

“Eighteen percent of jobs in Adams County are tourism related, higher than anywhere else in Mississippi except Tunica and the Gulf Coast,” Tipton said.

Regardless of the outcome of the city’s vote on the proposed tax, Tipton said he’s glad the city is talking tourism.

“We’re discussing the right thing at the right time,” he said. “We can’t wait to market until everything is built, this is the right time to discuss this and we need it if we’re going to move forward.”

The aldermen must vote to accept or deny the tax proposal soon so that it can be sent to the Legislature by March 12, the deadline for new legislation. A tax such as this one must have state approval.