August 23, 2018 11:05:52 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors and Columbus City Council passed matching resolutions during special meetings Wednesday for a new restaurant sales tax proposal on the eve of a special session of the Mississippi Legislature.
The resolution calls for a 2-percent restaurant sales tax, which would be only be collected by restaurants located within the Columbus city limits with annual sales of at least $100,000.
The proposal would replace the county-wide restaurant tax that expired on June 30 and had produced roughly $2 million in revenue for tourism and economic development.
Although an agreement among the local governments, tourism and economic officials had been reached Friday, the fate of the proposal hit a snag when Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said he would not present a restaurant tax resolution to the city council until the county agreed to provide $600,000 of tax revenue to the city as part of the county-city break-up of its joint parks and recreation department.
Wednesday, the supervisors passed the restaurant tax resolution before turning their attention to the parks money.
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks moved to amend its action from the previous board meeting and provide $300,000 to the city in fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20. At the previous meeting, the board agreed to provide the city with $200,000 in 2019.
Supervisors previously indicated they would give the city $200,000 each year for parks for three years, beginning in 2018, but never gave the city the 2018 money.
"They (city officials) have said they are not going to move on the restaurant tax until the park money is worked out," Brooks said. "We don't know what's going to happen but somehow we have to get this all worked out."
Brooks included a caveat, however.
"My motion is contingent upon the restaurant tax being taken up and passed in the special session," he said. "If it doesn't get introduced in the special session, we have all the time in the world to do whatever we need to do. So my recommendation is to do whatever it takes to have a resolution for the Legislature to consider during the special session. If it doesn't come up, I'm done with all this. I'm ready to move on."
Board President Harry Sanders, who had previously said he was opposed to complying with the mayor's demand for the additional parks money, pressed Brooks on that point.
"So if the restaurant tax doesn't get passed in the special session, you're not going to bring up (the parks money) again? Is that what you're saying?" Sanders asked.
"That's it. I'm done with it after this," Brooks responded.
The board voted unanimously to approve Brooks' motion on the parks.
A few hours later, the city council met and approved a matching resolution on the restaurant tax by a 6-0 vote after City Attorney Jeff Turnage, who had attended the supervisors meeting earlier in the day, informed the mayor and council of the supervisors' vote on the parks money.
The matching resolutions detailed how the income from the restaurant tax would be dispersed -- $400,000 annually for city parks/recreation, $300,000 for county parks/recreation, $250,000 for the Golden Triangle Development LINK and the rest for the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Under the resolution any referendum required by the Legislature for the tax to be initiated would be conducted only among registered voters who live in the city.
The special session of the Legislature begins Thursday. The only item listed on the agenda is for the state's roads/bridges infrastructure and a state lottery, although the governor's call for the special session said other items could be added once those two subjects have been settled.
Sanders said the county should have its resolution ready if the tax is presented in the special session.
"It doesn't make any difference if it's on the call (for the special session) or not," Sanders said before the supervisors voted on the resolution. "We need to go ahead and pass a resolution just in case they do. Even if they don't, we need to have a resolution prepared for the regular legislative session in January. The sooner we do that, the better off we are."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]