February 15, 2019 10:43:12 AM
If legislators approve a special 1-percent restaurant sales tax for Columbus, the city will only use it for maintaining and operating the Sen. Terry Brown Amphitheater at The Island.
Councilmen amended its resolution requesting the tax levy in a brief special-call meeting Thursday afternoon, removing language that would have allowed the city to also use the tax revenues for street, sidewalk, curb and gutter work.
The council first passed a resolution in January asking for the tax revenue to cover both amphitheater operations and street work. But on Thursday, Mayor Robert Smith said legislators would view the request more favorably if it didn't include infrastructure.
"The legislators might think, 'You know, if you do it for one (city), you have to do it for all,'" Smith said.
Specifically at issue, Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin said, is the state has already committed funds to counties and municipalities for road maintenance and infrastructure through internet sales tax. The Legislature plans to appropriate about $250,000 to Columbus from those collections this year and raise that total incrementally to an estimated $923,000 in 2023.
"My understanding is, since we have the internet sales tax money coming, they didn't want to open up a big can of worms by approving sales tax bills for cities that included infrastructure," he said.
The city's amended resolution will now go to Jackson and be drafted into a bill, where it will first be considered by the House Local and Private Committee.
If it clears the Legislature and gets the governor's signature, Rep. Jeff Smith said it would most likely require a direct referendum -- meaning it would have to garner at least 60-percent approval in a citywide vote -- in order to be levied.
"I think the Speaker (of the House Phillip Gunn) said as long as it has a direct referendum he felt like it could make it through the House and on to the Senate," Rep. Smith said.
If the tax ultimately passes it would raise the city's total restaurant sales tax to 3 percent, all of which must be collected at businesses in Columbus with food and beverage sales of at least $100,000. A 2-percent restaurant sales tax bill -- to fund tourism, recreation and economic development across Lowndes County -- has already passed the Legislature and has been signed into law.
Part of the 2-percent revenue will fund the completion of the amphitheater, where the stage has been built. Additional phases will include seating, gating and concession areas.
Once the amphitheater is finished, the city plans to hire an outside company to manage bookings for the venue that will seat roughly 3,500. Funds from the 1-percent tax can help that effort, as well as pay for required regular maintenance of the property.
Gavin said he is satisfied with designating all the 1-percent funds to amphitheater operations and maintenance.
"It gives us more money to pump into the amphitheater, rather than splitting up those funds," he said. "I think it's a great venue that will help the city grow. But right now it's just sitting there not making any money."
Managing Editor Zack Plair and reporter Amanda Lien contributed to this report.