Council hears opposition to lodging tax

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Motel and hotel officials Tuesday made their case against a 2percent lodging tax proposed by the chamber of commerce to boostmarketing and tourism efforts.

“As a group, we are obviously opposed to this,” Lenoir Heidermantold the Brookhaven mayor and board of aldermen at the Tuesdaynight meeting.

Heiderman, representing the local hotel association, saidBrookhaven is already at a disadvantage to McComb, which has ashopping mall, bowling alley, a state park and other attractionsfor potential lodging customers.

With representatives of other lodging establishments in theaudience, Heiderman said much of their business is not tourists butlocal and commercial business brought in through industry visitors,salesmen and others. With the 2 percent tax, they would be taxed inan indirect way, she said.

“We’re just not going to be able to give them the best rateswith this tax,” Heiderman said.

Heiderman said she understood the desire to not put a tax onlocal citizens, such as one through restaurants. Later, though, shesuggested that a 1 percent tax on both restaurants and lodgingwould generate more money and would be fairer.

If the tax is approved, Heiderman said lodging representativeswould like to be included in how the additional revenue is spent.She said local hotels pay a franchise fee, and part of that moneyis used to market Brookhaven.

“We do not want to see those funds duplicating the efforts we’remaking,” Heiderman said about lodging tax revenue.

Chamber of commerce officials have proposed the tax as a meansof boosting funds for economic development efforts such asmarketing, tourism and retiree development. They said 46 othercommunities are benefiting from a special tax option and Brookhavenneeds the additional revenue, expected to be about $60,000-$75,000a year, to compete.

A special lodging tax would have to be approved through a localand private bill passed by the state legislature.

Chamber officials have spoken to city officials about supportingthe proposal but have not presented their plans at a board meeting.Mayor Bill Godbold told hotel officials Tuesday the city has notacted on the plan.

“We haven’t made a decision either way,” Godbold said.

BOULEVARD PLANS

In other business Tuesday, aldermen approved advertising forbids for the planting of 266 trees along Brookway Boulevard as partof a “Streetscape” community improvement plan. Trees are expectedto be planted in late December and early January from Highway 51 tothe interstate, said Bennie Hutchins, who is working with thechamber’s community appearance committee.

The total project is expected to cost around $30,000. Hutchinssaid it has received a $15,000 Mississippi Forestry Commissiongrant while Entergy has contributed $10,000, and the appearancecommittee has $8,750 available.

The Streetscape project includes plans for landscapingimprovements along Brookway Boulevard and Monticello Street fromthe interstate to Hamilton Street.

Hutchins said the boulevard is the “front door” to thecommunity, and the committee wanted to focus on that area first.Ward 3 Alderman the Rev. Jerry L. Wilson questioned when work wouldbe done on the eastern end of the project.

“People come in that way as well,” Wilson said.

Hutchins said the committee wanted to work on the part thatwould have the biggest impact in the most visible area. He saidplans are to seek additional grant help for other parts of theproject next year, but there were ho guarantees of fundingassistance.

In a related matter, aldermen approved an approximately $23,000bid for new striping along the boulevard. It was the only bidreceived.

PROPERTY VALUES LOWER

City Clerk Iris Rudman announced that actual city propertyvalues were slightly lower than what city officials used incalculating this year’s budget totals.

The actual total assessed value of city property, excludingdisabled citizens’ and senior citizen exemptions, was $50,184.442while city officials used a value of $50,298,000 for calculatingthe budget, Rudman said. In the city school district, the actualvalue was $44,838,538 while $47,677,000 was used for budgetpreparation purposes.

“We’ll see a little bit of difference, but not that much,”Rudman said about the lower values’ impact on property taxcollections.

Godbold said the city did a good job with its budgetpreparation.

“It’s good to be conservative in the budget,” Rudman said.

DRUG-TESTING DECISION

After several weeks of review, aldermen elected to have twocompanies provide drug-testing services for the city.

For several years, the city has had an automatically-renewedcontract with Kim Carr and Associates. However, at their Sept. 19meeting, aldermen approved a contract with the Human PerformanceCenter for the same services.

City Attorney Joe Fernald said both contracts are valid.

“I see no reason for not carrying both of them, and we can usewho we want to,” Godbold said.

Fernald stressed the importance of consistency in dealing withthe two providers. Aldermen agreed to alternate between thetwo.

In a related matter, aldermen voted to seek reimbursement fordrug-testing costs from new employees who do not complete asix-month probation period or prospective employees who fail aninitial drug test. Godbold estimated the tests cost $40-$50 and thecity has been out that money when employees leave before theirprobation period is up.

EXECUTIVE SESSION

At the request of Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron, aldermen wentinto executive session to discuss a personnel matter related to thefire department. Upon returning from the approximately 15-minuteclosed meeting, Fernald said it was for pending litigationinvolving fire department personnel, and no board action wastaken.

Also Tuesday, aldermen:

* Heard from Richard Barker with the Human Performance Centerabout a 12-week fitness challenge between volunteers from the citypolice and fire departments.

* Heard from a citizen involving an Aug. 9 accident with a cityrecreation department vehicle. City officials are reviewing theclaim, which was denied by the insurance company.

* Were informed by Fernald that the city has received a $14,854grant to assist juvenile office Louis Calcote in transportingjuveniles to the Pike County Detention Center.

* Were informed that Paul Barnett has been named chairman of theAirport Advisory Board following a Monday meeting. Fernald saidcity board and airport board members would have special meeting inDecember to discuss the long-range operation of the airport.