Slimantics: The 2-percent hostage

August 21, 2018 11:03:00 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


When the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors decided to break away from the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority a year ago, supervisors suggested they would provide $200,000 to the city for parks/recreation in the fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020. Those numbers were based on the amount of taxes city residents pay for recreation each year. After that, the only thing we know for sure is that city residents will continue to pay recreation taxes, even if they don't get anything in return. 


By the way, if you're a city resident and you're just fine with the supervisors hanging on to the tax dollars you pay for recreation, give them a call. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you. 


I think the supervisors are beginning to understand that the tax-paying residents of Columbus are not beggars who must grovel at the feet of the board of supervisors to get the benefits of the taxes they pay because last week the supervisors relented a bit, voting to provide $200,000 to the city for its parks/recreation for Fiscal Year 2019. 


But if you thought that was the end of the matter, you haven't been paying attention. 


The dispute over the parks money has weaseled its way into an even more critical issue -- the poor old political pinata otherwise known as the 2-percent restaurant tax. 


When Gov. Phil Bryant announced he planned to call a special session of the Legislature for later this week, there was some hope a new restaurant tax would be added to the agenda. Rep. Jeff Smith, the guy who torpedoed the bill to extend the county's old restaurant tax in March to create the whole mess, had asked the Governor to do him that solid. 


Local officials figured they had better be ready. 


On Friday, city, county, CVB and LINK officials met to fashion a resolution for a new restaurant tax, agreeing as to how that revenue would be dispersed just in case the tax did make its way onto the special session agenda. 


Everybody agreed and a new era of Peace, Love and Understanding descended like a dove on the gathering. 


I'm joking, of course. 


Peace prevailed for, oh, maybe two minutes. 


Then Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said he would not present the proposal to the city council unless the county makes good on the entire $600,000 in parks money the supervisors initially intended to give the city. 


There was nothing nuanced about the mayor's move. He is holding the restaurant tax hostage until the county comes up with that parks money, preferably in large, unmarked bills. 


Without matching resolutions from the county and city, there is no restaurant tax. 


Smith is adamant that he won't budge. Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders is equally adamant that the county will not pay the, uh, ransom. Go ahead and kill the hostage, he figures. 


The mayor is wrong on this point, obviously. 


But that does not excuse Sanders from blame, either. 


Should the county honor its intentions to provide the city with the tax revenue paid by city residents for parks? Absolutely. 


Should the mayor sabotage the restaurant tax if the city doesn't get that money? Absolutely not. 


The city/county parks issue and the restaurant tax are two separate issues and should be treated as such. 


Any effort to create leverage by threatening to blow up the restaurant tax is -- what was the phrase Columbus COO David Armstrong used in describing the supervisors' reluctance to provide parks money? Oh, yeah. "Petty politics at its worst." 


The board of supervisors will meet Wednesday to pass a resolution identical to the one the city has crafted for the tax. 


The city has a matching resolution ready to go, I suppose just in case a piano falls on Sanders' head and the rest of the board decides to cough up the full $600,000 in parks money during Wednesday's meeting. 


Unless the mayor calls for a special session to present the resolution before Thursday, when the Legislature is expected to begin its special session, the restaurant tax is, for now at least, dead. 


That's what usually happens to hostages, you know.

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