January 7, 2014 9:48:51 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
The Mississippi Municipal League will once again press state legislators to pass the Citizens for Economic Development Act when they convene today in Jackson for the 2014 legislative session.
Last year, a bill was introduced that would have permitted municipalities to call for referendums to give voters the option of self-imposing a temporary sales tax increase up to 1 percent, for specific capital improvement projects such as road and drainage upgrades. Once the revenues for the project were generated, the tax would be discontinued. A 60 percent super-majority of voters would have to approve the increase for the tax to take effect. The bill died on the calendar 10 days after it was introduced last year.
MML Executive Director Shari Veazey said 34 states currently allow a similar funding mechanism for their municipalities and the act would provide a more efficient way of financing infrastructural projects than a high-interest, long-term bond projects or a millage increase.
"Municipalities in Mississippi have very few options as far as generating new revenue," she said. "Property taxes are always what they have to look at and that's unfair to property owners and business owners to constantly be trying to raise millage to generate new revenue. You're capped on how much you can raise your millage and for some of our small towns, a 1-mill increase doesn't generate that much revenue. We feel like the local option spreads that out across the community so it's not just a burden put on property and business owners."
Columbus councilman Charlie Box said he supported a local option for funding capital projects.
"With all of the crumbling infrastructure that we've got and all the problems we have in the city with storm sewers and flooding, it's probably going to be one of the only ways we're going to be able to raise the money to (make improvements)," Box said. "I don't understand why (legislators) won't give the cities the local option to do this if they want to. It's not going to be automatic. People are going to have to say they want it."
Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said he was not in support of the bill because the option unfairly taxes county residents who don't have a chance to vote on city and town projects.
"The city by themselves would vote whether to put the tax on or not, yet all the people that live in the county did not get to vote on it and they would have to pay the tax," Chism said. "Probably 40 percent of those would show up at any given time for an election and then they would have to have 60 percent of that. We're probably talking about 10,000 people that would be voting on something that would affect all of us in the county, which would be about 80,000 and make all of us have to pay an extra tax."
Veazey said infrastructure in good condition is a major attraction when it comes to drawing businesses and CEDA provides an avenue for cities and towns to be more proactive in making themselves more attractive to potential retailers.
"This at least puts it on a ballot and lets the cities decide," she said. "Ultimately, we feel like it's an economic development tool which might help our cities attract businesses and industry, which in turn might create jobs."
Starkville aldermen passed a resolution last year supporting CEDA.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.