December 8, 2017 11:15:04 AM
District 37 Rep. Gary Chism offered mixed reviews to The Dispatch Thursday on suggestions that came out of a joint meeting of Columbus and Lowndes County leaders at Trotter Convention Center to discuss renewing the 2-percent restaurant tax.
Chism, a Republican from Lowndes County, sits on the Mississippi House Local and Private Legislation Committee that deals with sales tax bills. The current 10-year term for the county's restaurant tax expires in June 2018, and without a city-county joint resolution on renewal terms, the Legislature is unlikely to take up the matter, Chism has repeatedly said.
During Thursday's joint meeting, supervisors and city councilmen agreed the "floor" on the tax -- the requirement the additional sales tax should only be collected at establishments where annual prepared food and beverage revenues are at least $325,000 -- should be removed. By requiring all restaurants, regardless of revenue, to collect the tax from customers, local leaders believe it will generate more revenue and be easier to track compliance.
Chism told The Dispatch Thursday he would support removing the floor, although he cautioned it would only generate roughly $62,000 more in annual tax revenue.
"It's not a significant amount of money," Chism said. "I would support that, though, because we are the only (local and private sales tax) in the state that still has a floor."
Changing the make-up of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board, however, won't happen, Chism said, adding he's been clear to Columbus Mayor Robert Smith on that issue.
"I told that mayor any changing of the membership is a non-starter," he said.
Now, the CVB board has nine members, with the city council and board of supervisors each appointing four and Smith and supervisors board president Harry Sanders jointly appointing the ninth.
Smith in November launched an effort to reduce CVB's board to seven members -- five city appointed and two county appointed. On Thursday, the council and supervisors agreed to leave the board at nine members, removing any requirements that any members specifically represent restaurants, hotel/motels or historic homeowners.
They also discussed, but did not agree on, rotating the appointment of the ninth CVB board member between the city and county on a two- or four-year basis.
Chism is fine with removing board member designations and making all appointees "at-large," but he opposes the idea of rotating the ninth appointment.
"I don't like this switching," he said. "I don't like the idea of one (the city or county) having the advantage over the other for any length of time."
On Thursday, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks -- who proposed the rotating appointment -- dismissed Chism's opinion, saying he is "just one legislator."
"It's about us. It's not about Gary Chism," Brooks said. "Gary Chism does not dictate what goes on with these governing bodies (the council and the supervisors). Hell, everybody's tired of what Gary Chism says. My understanding is that if Gary Chism proposes it (to the Legislature), it probably won't pass anyway."
Chism, speaking to The Dispatch, offered a different picture of his sway among legislative colleagues, particularly his committee of five Republicans and two Democrats.
"If I, as a committee member or as a member of the Lowndes County delegation, am adamantly against a particular local and private tax bill, it's just not going to go anywhere," he said.
Brooks, speaking at the meeting, said the city and county should forge ahead regardless of Chism's blessing.
"(If the tax isn't renewed) let the blood be on his hands," Brooks said.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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