Aldermen finalize $2M hotel tax break

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NATCHEZ — City leaders met Tuesday expecting to discuss a proposal to raise taxes on hotel beds and restaurant meals.

Instead they put the icing on a $2 million tax break for the convention center hotel developers, finally putting the special incentive to bed a year and a half after it began.

Discussion of a tourism tax increase was postponed due to the absence of Mayor Phillip West and Alderman David Massey. The tax proposal — $1 per hotel bed per night and half a percent on restaurant meals — would fund additional marketing of the city’s tourism endeavors.

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The board scheduled a special meeting in the Council Chambers on Wednesday, Feb. 20 to address the request. If the city approves, the measure still needs Mississippi Legislature approval before being enacted.

The city finalized a special $2 million tax incremental financing bond incentive for the developers of the Country Inn and Suites hotel under construction near the convention center.

“It’s a device to encourage the development to go forward,” said attorney Walter Brown, who represents the hotel developers.

The tax incremental financing (TIF) bond measure seems complicated, but it’s a common development tool that allows the use of future taxes to pay back bonds debt.

Essentially, as an incentive to help generate funding for a development, the city and county agreed to set up a bond for the developers. Anticipated taxes — sans school taxes — will go to pay back that bond, over the next 15 years.

City and county leaders agreed to set up the TIF bonds in the fall of 2006.

The resolutions dealing with the TIF bonds passed unanimously.

Tom Bauer, the developer of the hotel, announced the hotel would open the first week of March.

In other city business, the board of aldermen learned that the city’s Black History Month Parade was cancelled.

Darryl White, director of the National Association for the Preservation of African-American Culture and in charge of organizing the Black History Month parade, said scheduling conflicts nixed the parade.

The first scheduling conflict, he said, was with the local high school and middle school bands.

White said they were not able to participate in the parade because of outside of school activities. The drum line would be away at a conference.

White said his work with organizing the Christmas parade and work on Martin Luther Kind Jr. Day activities further distracted him.

A lack of funding was a roadblock in trying to plan an alternative activity at the convention center, White said.

Alderman James “Ricky” Gray said he was disappointed and said he wanted more notice in the future if the parade was to be cancelled.

“If we continue to not have Black History Month parades, how are our kids going to know where we’re coming from?” Gray said.

White said he was equally disappointed and that this is an unfortunate event.

“It won’t happen like this again,” White said.

During city officials’ regular reports, Alderman Jake Middleton said he’s heard from a number of residents who are upset over tree trimmers in the area.

Entergy, which supplies electric power to much of the area, has hired a company to trim trees near power lines.

In doing so, Middleton said, they have desecrated many trees on people’s property.

“I’ve gotten complaints from citizens saying the (company) is going in and butchering our trees,” he said.

Middleton said he called the Mississippi Public Service Commission and had the company discontinue the trimming of trees in the city until he is able to ride through the city with Entergy representatives.

The ride-through was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon but was canceled due to inclement weather.