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Lowndes County, Starkville look to renew restaurant taxes



From left, Joe Max Higgins, Nancy Carpenter, Leroy Brooks, Lynn Spruill and Gary Chism



Slim Smith



Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins asked Lowndes County Board of Supervisors for a resolution backing the renewal of the county's 2-percent restaurant sales tax Friday. 


The current 10-year term of the tax is set to end July 18, 2018. 


Higgins and Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Nancy Carpenter addressed the supervisors Friday. They plan to attend Tuesday's Columbus City Council meeting to ask the city to pass a similar resolution. 


The tax is currently the only source of funding for the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, with up to 15 percent of the revenue going to the LINK for community and economic development. The new proposals will stipulate that the LINK's portion of the funds will be a flat $250,000, which is roughly the annual amount of funding the LINK has derived from the tax in recent years, Higgins said. 


"Nancy and I have been working for several months on this, talking about who does what, how we do it and how we propose the funds be distributed," Higgins told supervisors. "Last time, we got the renewal for 10 years and over that time, we've done some pretty good tag-team projects." 


Among those projects are the Burns Bottom soccer complex, which was completed in 2012, and the addition of five new hotels in as many years, he said. 


"So we believe this tax has been good both for development and tourism," he said. 


Higgins asked the supervisors to pass the resolution within the next month. 


"We want to have time, after we get the resolutions, to take our proposal to our legislative delegation and work out a bill to send the Legislature," Higgins said. "Ideally the resolutions will be unanimous because that tells the Legislature that it has the full support of local government." 


Although Higgins and Carpenter did not ask for a vote on the resolution Friday, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks said he was not prepared to support the legislation. 


"I do have some interests and concerns that I'll discuss with Nancy or members of the board," Brooks said. "This resolution, as stated here, is not acceptable to me. I've talked to some other officials who have some of the same concerns I have. Rather than voice what they are at this meeting, I'd like to meet with Nancy and others to voice those concerns." 






The Starkville Board of Aldermen also has not passed a resolution backing the restaurant tax's renewal, although the city's 2-percent tax also is set to expire July 18, 2018. 


The board splits the revenue between five different groups: the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Starkville Parks and Recreation Department, Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, the city of Starkville (operating revenue) and Mississippi State University's Student Government Association. 


Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill credited the tax with funding projects all over the city. 


"The Sportsplex is a great example of how we were able to use that revenue to pay the bonds on that project," Spruill said. "Then you have the splash park at J.L. King Park. Really, just about everything we've been able to do in capital improvement has come from this revenue." 




Four-year renewal 


When and if a proposed bill is presented in the Legislature, it will originate in the House and Senate Local and Private committees. 


District 37 Rep. Gary Chism of Columbus sits on the House committee and said such tax proposals are generally looked upon favorably in the Legislature. 


"A renewal usually goes through without much trouble," Chism said. "But I don't think we'll do a 10-year renewal this time. I think just about all of the renewals will be four years with a repealer, which is up to the chairman's discretion." 


Chism said the shorter term gives citizens a bigger voice. 


"The four years and the repealer gives the community some say in things if they decide they don't like how things are going," Chism said. "The repealer allows citizens to sign a petition requiring the tax be put up for a vote. It just lets them have some control."


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]



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