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No action yet on proposed lodging tax

After hearing from the opposition three weeks ago, Brookhavenofficials Tuesday night heard reasons why they should support achamber of commerce plan to get a 2 percent lodging tax to fundtourism and retiree development efforts.

Following a presentation by Chandler Russ, executivevice-president of the chamber, aldermen said they were not ready tovote on a resolution to seek local and private state legislation toallow the tax. A decision is possible in two weeks.

“Taxes is a bad word no matter what time of year you say it,”said Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron in requesting the legislationrequest be tabled.

Russ said 47 other communities are using the special tax optionto benefit their areas. The 2 percent lodging tax, expected togenerate about $61,000 a year, would put Brookhaven and the chamberon “a more even playing field” with competing communities, hesaid.

“The chamber and the city must have the ability to compete inthe area of retiree development and tourism development,” Russsaid.

Russ said current retiree efforts have netted 51 relocatedretiree homeowners and an estimated net community wealth increaseof $20.4 million. Citing statistics, he said that is the equivalentof 138 new jobs.

Those accomplishments have been done with a budget of $14,000, apart-time staff person and much volunteer help, Russ said. Usingsome funds from the tax, he predicted retiree developmentachievements could double.

Many of the retiree inquiries have come from printed materialadvertising, Russ said. Chamber officials hope to use the specialtax revenue to boost printed marketing materials and develop anincreased presence on the world wide web to attract seniors, one ofthe fastest-growing segments of computer users.

“We’ve got to have good information and good marketinginformation out there that’s attainable,” Russ said.

For tourism development, Russ discussed marketing efforts topromote Brookhaven as an outdoor recreation and tourismdestination. He also mentioned the need for an additional billboardon Interstate 55 and development of smaller, specialized events inaddition to the Ole Brook Festival and Tour of Homes.

Ward 2 Alderman Terry Bates questioned why restaurants and otherbusinesses are not being considered for the tax. He suggested a 1percent tax spread out as an alternative to the 2 percent tax onlodging only.

“We need to look at this real close,” Bates said.

Russ said he believed the chamber’s goals could be accomplishedwith just the lodging tax. Also a restaurant tax would affect localcitizens such as seniors on fixed incomes.

“They would be taxed every time they went into one of thoseplaces,” said Russ, adding the lodging tax is the least expensiveoption for local residents.

Hotel officials and others have suggested the lodging tax wouldsend travelers to McComb or other communities that do not have thetax. Russ said the tax, which would amount to about 70 cents to $1a night, was reasonable and not enough to send peopleelsewhere.

Jimmy Moreton, one of the chamber’s retiree contact volunteers,said motels could be the biggest beneficiary of the chamber’sefforts.

“Their business should build up as a result of increased effortsand advertising,” he said.

Ward 4 Alderman John Roberts said he would support the tax if itwere on lodging only. The local and private legislation must beapproved by the state legislature.