City to discuss increasing hotel, restaurant taxes

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, December 9, 2014

NATCHEZ — Natchez leaders are expected to discuss today the possibility of increasing taxes to help the city pay off the Natchez Convention Center and possibly cover an expansion of the facility.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he would begin initial discussions today with the Natchez Board of Aldermen regarding an increase in two taxes— one that taxes patrons of hotels and another that taxes sales at restaurants and bars.

In the proposed increases, the 3-percent lodging tax would be increased by 1 percent to a total of 4 percent, while the 1.5-percent restaurant tax would be increased by 0.5 percent to a total of 2 percent.

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The proposed increases do not include the $2 hotel and bed-and-breakfast occupancy — or “heads on beds” tax — which is earmarked for tourism marketing purposes

The increase in tourism taxes would require approval first by the aldermen and then by the Legislature, as well as the signature of the governor.

The increased taxes are necessary, Brown said, to help pay for the remaining debt on the bond for the Natchez Convention Center at nearly $9.6 million.

Under the current structure of the bond, the debt should be paid in full by 2024.

The $12 million bond was issued in 1999 to build and furnish the convention center, as well as renovate the Natchez Community Center and Natchez City Auditorium.

The city refinanced a portion of the bond through an interest-rate swap transaction executed in 2006 with Malachi Financial Products in an effort to save a projected $1.5 million over the subsequent 18 years.

The payment for the refinanced bonds will increase to nearly $1 million this year and average approximately that until the bond retires in 2024.

Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, Brown said he would float the idea of restructuring the bond on the convention center to add 10 years and nearly $4.5 million to pay for an expansion of the convention center and fees associated with the project.

Warren Reuther, president of New Orleans Hotel Consultants who operate the convention center, and Walter Tipton, convention center manager, are on the agenda today to discuss the expansion project.

The idea isn’t a new one for the city.

Brown and other city leaders proposed the idea of the same tax increase in April saying at that time the increases would go to pay off a bond that would be issued to fund the expansion.

At the time, Brown said the plan wasn’t ready to go before the Legislature and tabled the idea for the next session.

The increasing debt service on the convention center bond and the increased number of conventions and events have made taking action now necessary, Brown said.

Preliminary plans for an expansion were drawn in 2006 in anticipation of demand at the convention center warranting an expansion.

The plans include adding approximately 10,800 square-feet to the exhibit hall. The addition would double the size of the Nashville room, the center’ main exhibit hall. The expansion would be made on the Franklin Street side of the center cutting into a portion of the current parking lot and green space.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen will meet in the Natchez City Council Chambers on Pearl Street at 9:30 a.m. for a finance meeting and at 11 a.m. for the regular meeting.