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Our View: Tourist tax: the city's last-ditch effort




On Tuesday, the Columbus City Council approved a resolution and a proposed bill to send to the Legislature to create a new 2-percent food-and-beverage tax, which would apply only to restaurants, bars and taverns within the city limits. 


In the absence of an agreement between the county and the city for a joint resolution to extend the current 2-percent restaurant tax, which expires in July, the city's move appears to be the best available option. 


As the failed negotiations between the city and county clearly indicate, there are differences of opinions about how the roughly $2 million in annual revenue produced by the tax should be spent.  


But there can be no serious debate about how important that revenue has been to our community. The evidence is all around us. 


In that respect we support the city's efforts to keep that revenue coming in, although we do have serious reservations about the city's plans. 


In both the resolution and the bill, the city loosely outlines how the money will be spent -- to promote "recreation, tourism, special events and projects, parks and economic development within the city and for related purposes." 


First, we believe the language of the bill should include specifically how that $2-million-plus will be distributed.  


The only specific designation in the resolution/bill is that $250,000 will go to the Golden Triangle Development LINK. But how much will go to recreation? How much will go to parks? How much will go to tourism? 


Second, we believe the resolution/bill is ambiguous. What special events are we talking about here? What is meant by "related purposes?" More significantly, who decides? 


We feel that without language that spells out how that money will be dispersed and a clearer idea of how it may be used, the tax revenue may turn into a political football and will lack the accountability taxpayers have every right to demand. 


Two million dollars is no trivial sum. Taxpayers demand and deserve a strict accounting of how that money is spent. 


In Starkville, the money generated by its 2-percent restaurant tax is dispersed among established entities in the community on a proportional basis. We believe that's a wise way to handle these funds.  


As an example, citizens of Oktibbeha County know that 40 percent of the funds go to parks and recreation for the specific use of capital improvements. Because the language of their tax is clear, there is clear accountability, too. 


We support the city's plan on the condition that the language of the bill is rewritten to more clearly indicate to whom and for what specific purpose the money will be used and who will be accountable for using these funds wisely. 


The devil really is in the details.



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