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Brookhaven joins cities seeking sales tax option

Brookhaven is joining other state cities who are looking to getthe MOST out of sales tax collections.

City officials recently voted to support a Mississippi MunicipalLeague (MML) resolution asking the state legislature to approve aMississippi Optional Sales Tax (MOST) for state cities. If adoptedby the legislature and following a 60 percent majority during anelection, cities could levy an additional up to 1 percent on salestax to fund capital improvement and infrastructure projects.

“If we can get additional money, that always to our good,” saidMayor Bill Godbold.

Samantha Atkinson, MML deputy director of special and technicalprojects, said MML is making a grass roots effort to build supportfor MOST from citizens up to legislators.

“We’re trying to make this something that is palatable toeverybody,” she said.

Atkinson said the MOST resolution was sent to city boards inOctober and 23 had returned resolutions in support of theissue.

“I suspect there’s a number who have also voted or who havebrought it up for the discussion and will vote at their nextmeeting,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said 96 percent of respondents in a MML surveysupported the optional sales tax. Also, 32 states use optionalsales tax for various purposes.

MML officials also touted MOST as an economic developmenttool.

“The Mississippi Optional Sales Tax is an incredible economicdevelopment tool that gives citizens the choice of direction theywant to take,” said Jeanie Smith, MML executive director.

Mentioning one city that hasn’t paved its roads since 1988because of limited funds, Atkinson said MOST would provide analternative to funding projects from property taxes or otherrevenue sources. She said MOST could only be used for capitalimprovements projects such as roads, schools and otherinfrastructure needs.

Atkinson said having funds to do needed work provides jobs andmakes communities more attractive to industries.

“Business see the cities as a good place to go,” Atkinsonsaid.

Godbold did not mention any projects that could be pursuedthrough MOST. He indicated, though, that funding projects throughsales tax would not place the burden on any one group oftaxpayers.

“If you spread it out over the county, you don’t hurt anybodytoo much,” Godbold said.

Atkinson added that a good percentage of money generated throughMOST would come from tourism-related activities. She said MML isstill working out the details of what establishments would besubject to levying the sales tax.

Before the optional sales tax could be considered, thelegislature must adopt the resolution. Atkinson said MML is workingwith other organizations to build support for the measure andincrease public awareness in preparation for the 2002 legislativesession.

“If we can get the support of the citizens, we may have achance,” Atkinson said about MOST’s legislative passagepossibilities.

Godbold thinks the legislature will authorize the measure as away of helping communities.

“They know what it’s like to be without money,” Godbold said,alluding to recent budget cuts in the wake of a slowingeconomy.

Godbold said the economic downturn has affected allgovernments.

“All governments were floating along last year and the yearbefore,” the mayor said. “Sales taxes and taxes in general are notwhat it’s anticipated to be.”

And when state revenue is down, it also impacts cities becausethey receive only 18 percent of sales tax collected as theirmonthly diversions, Atkinson said.

“When they suffer, we suffer,” she said about the state-cityrelationship.

Brookhaven Tax Collector Pat Duckworth focused on taxpayerprotections that would be built into the proposed legislation.According to the resolution, those include the maximum levy of upto 1 percent, rules governing use of proceeds, duration of the taxand the 60 percent “up front” referendum.

“It doesn’t automatically mean we’re going to tax the people,”Duckworth said. “There has to be a vote on it. If they don’t wantit, they don’t get it.”

Duckworth said 60 percent would be an “overwhelming majority” tosupport the optional tax. With the vote and the publicity it wouldgenerate, she said there would be “no question” citizens would knowabout the tax before it would be implemented.

“There’s pretty good precautions in it,” she said.

Atkinson said seeking public input is part of the preparationprocess.

“There’s a lengthy process (cities) have to go through toprepare for the vote,” Atkinson said.

Other aspects include identifying the specific project, theamount of the additional tax and how long it will be in place.

“It’s time-limited, project-specific and the people’s choice,”Atkinson said.