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Starkville gearing up for 2 percent renewal push


Carl Smith



Starkville aldermen are expected to begin the process toward securing another decade of 2 percent food and beverage taxing authority today during a 5 p.m. special-call meeting at the Starkville Sportsplex. 


A resolution supporting the tax's renewal is listed on the city's consent agenda. Aldermen will tend to numerous consent agenda items, thereby potentially shortening the length of Tuesday's regular meeting. The board will interview Starkville police chief candidates Tuesday. 


Mississippi lawmakers passed a local and private bill 20 years ago allowing Starkville to impose a 2 percent economic development, tourism and convention tax on the gross revenue of restaurants derived from the sale of prepared food and beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Residents would go on to approve the tax in a referendum. 


A second bill was passed in 2004 which amended the entities receiving distributions from the 2 percent tax and extended the levy through June 30, 2015. Currently, tax revenues are divided between Starkville Parks (40 percent), Mississippi State University student groups (20 percent), Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority (15 percent), Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau (15 percent). The remainder, 10 percent, returns to the city. 


Documents obtained by The Dispatch show collections have grown from $558,132.96 in Fiscal Year 1996 to $1.58 million in Fiscal Year 2013. 


The city's resolution asks lawmakers to extend the tax through June 30, 2020, with the same distribution levels and recipients as established by previous laws. Since the city is requesting no changes to current law, it also seeks to be relieved of holding a future referendum on the tax's continuation. 


If approved today, Mayor Parker Wiseman said appropriate legislation will then be filed with the House's local and private committee. One area representative, Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, serves on that subgroup. 


"There has been no policy over the course of the last 20 years that has been as impactful as the 2 percent food and beverage tax in moving our city forward," Wiseman said. 


Specific effects from the extra revenue have been felt across the city. For example, a portion of the 2 percent proceeds are obligated to service debt remaining on the Sportsplex through 2026. Additionally, OCEDA uses the funding to help subsidize its portion of the economic development contract with the Golden Triangle Development Link, the organization charged with industrial and job enticement for all of Oktibbeha County. 


"For the CVB, that's about two-thirds of our budget, and we're essentially the only organization that advertises and promotes Starkville as a tourist and regional restaurant destination, and the shop-local concept. All of our quality-of-life activities and promotions we've become accustomed to -- Starkville Farmers' Market, Pumpkinpalooza and our New South Weekends event series -- all of those would completely disappear without adequate funding," said Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory. "Our aggressive advertising has changed the perception of Starkville and allowed people to experience a different and growing community than it they're used to. Tracking our advertising campaigns, tourism spending in Oktibbeha County has grown more than 35 percent. That is a result of great partnerships within our city and a result of the 2 percent tax working as a whole for all entities." 


In other business, aldermen will also interview two finalists -- Deputy City Clerk Lesa Hardin and MSU Shuttle Operations Manager Jeanette Mitchell-Bailey -- for the vacant city clerk position. The position opened after the board promoted Taylor Adams last month.


Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch



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