February 24, 2009
JACKSON -- Most Mississippi senators supported a bill Monday to let cities raise property taxes for parks and playgrounds, but Republicans flexed enough votes to keep it from the 60 percent majority required for revenue bills.
After heated debate that at times got personal, the Senate voted 29-21 for the bill -- one short of the 30 needed to pass.
"What I''m up here for now is protecting the taxpayers," said Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, who argued on the Senate floor against the legislation. "I don''t need you to tell me how much taxes to put on my people in Lowndes County."
Senate Bill 3125 would authorize city boards to increase the tax rate allowed by current law specifically to raise revenue for parks, playgrounds and other public recreational facilities. It would give cities the option to raise the rate from two mills to four mills if they want.
Supporters of the bill argued that cities need more revenue to build or upgrade ball parks, golf courses and other recreational outlets to give children and adults more opportunities to play and exercise.
Opponents said property taxpayers are already overly burdened -- especially now with the economic recession causing such widespread financial stress.
The legislation comes as Columbus and Lowndes County governments make plans to build a sportsplex and a separate recreation facility with a combined cost that could total about $5 million.
Sites and funding sources are still being considered by the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, the city council and county board of supervisors. The sportsplex would include fields for soccer, football and adult softball. The recreation facility would accommodate senior-citizen activities and club meetings, which are currently housed at several of the city-county neighborhood parks.
Brown -- who noted he''s provided ballfields for public use on property he owns -- said local governments should individually seek the Legislature''s permission to raise taxes for parks rather than lawmakers giving all Mississippi cities blanket authority.
As Senate supporters of the bill accused opponents of being against children, Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, angrily shot back: "Don''t tell me we got to double the tax in order to give children recreational opportunities."
Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, sponsored the bill and said its opponents unreasonably "have no faith in the people elected back home" to decide whether to raise taxes for parks.
With the Senate''s recreational tax bill so close to having enough votes to pass, supporters could bring it back for another attempt.
Six Republicans normally against tax increases joined 23 Democratic senators to support the bill. The 19 Republicans against the bill were joined by two Democrats.
Senate Bill 3125 to let cities raise their tax millage rate to generate revenues for parks and other recreational facilities:
n Terry Brown, R-Columbus: Against
n Bennie Turner, D-West Point: For
n Gary Jackson, R-Kilmichael: Against
n Hob Bryan, D-Amory: Not voting
n Sampson Jackson, D-Preston: For
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