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December 20, 2017 11:23:43 AM
The Columbus City Council approved a resolution for a 2-percent food and beverage tax Tuesday that its attorney said will not require agreement from the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.
With the city and county at an impasse over the details of renewing the current 2-percent restaurant tax that expires on July 1, the council passed the new resolution by a 4-1 vote during its regular council meeting.
The city adopted the resolution, along with a bill it plans to present to the Legislature when it convenes in January. The bill requests the Legislature allow the city to "levy a tax upon the gross proceeds of sales of restaurants, bars and taverns for the purpose of providing funds to promote recreation, tourism, special events and projects, parks and economic development within the city and for related purposes."
The tax would apply only to businesses within the city limits of Columbus, and under the plan, all revenue would be managed by the city out of a special account separate from the city's general fund.
City attorney Jeff Turnage said the resolution and bill were drafted after the Lowndes County supervisors passed a resolution to keep the current 2-percent restaurant tax largely unchanged.
The city and county had been debating the terms of a joint resolution to continue the county-wide tax since October, and although both parties appeared willing to compromise in an effort to reach an agreement, the supervisors' vote during Friday's meeting reverted, with a few minor exceptions, to the original proposal, which provides revenue only for the Columbus-Lowndes Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Golden Triangle Development LINK. Rep. Gary Chism, who sits on the state's Local and Private Committee where the proposed legislation will be first considered, has said the joint resolution will not pass without approval from both the city and the county.
The city has been asking for the joint resolution to include revenue for its parks and for the completion of the Terry Brown Amphitheater.
"The county supervisors did not make any of the changes we discussed in our negotiations with them," Turnage told the council. "In discussing this with the mayor, if we send down something different from what the supervisors passed, it would die in committee.
"After talking it over with the mayor and doing some research, we found where several other cities have a food and beverage tax."
Turnage said the resolution and bill presented Tuesday was modeled after the tax that was approved by the Legislature and implemented by the city of Winona two years ago.
"The money from this tax would be deposited in a separated fund to be used for the stated purposes outlined in this bill," Turnage said.
Ward 6 councilman Bill Gavin asked how the bill would affect the CVB, Columbus Main Street and the Hitching Lot Farmers Market.
"This money that comes in would come into the city and the city would be the governing faction for this distribution," Turnage said. "The CVB would die at the sunset of the current tax in July. Under this, Main Street and the Farmers' Market would continue as is. There is nothing in this bill that changed that."
Turnage said the bill would continue to provide the LINK with $250,000 each year.
Ward 2 councilman Joseph Mickens asked for details on the Winona tax that served as the model for the one presented to the council.
"In the Winona tax did the county there send in a resolution, too?" he asked.
"Not to my knowledge," Turnage said.
At the heart of that exchange was whether the resolution passed by the city would be considered a different version of the resolution passed by the supervisors.
Turnage maintained it was an entirely different request since the bill would affect only businesses in the city limits of Columbus.
Reached after the meeting, Chism agreed with Turnage's assessment.
"It's something different," Chism said. "It looks to me like this is a brand-spanking-new tax. I think it's something that could be introduced (to the Legislature). If they had sent their own version of the resolution passed by the supervisors, we would have had competing resolutions and both of them would be dead on arrival. This one has a better chance than that, but I think it will be an uphill battle. I won't support it and I would try to defeat it."
Bill Gavin was the only 'no' vote among the five councilmen in attendance Tuesday. Ward 3 councilman Charlie Box was out of the state after the death of a family member.
"Actually, I agree with the proposal and I think this is something that should be under city control," Gavin said. "My vote was based on my belief that I don' t think it has any chance of going anywhere with the Legislature. I still think our best chance is to work with the county to find an agreement. That's why I voted no."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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