Hattiesburg approves 1 percent sales tax increase

Hattiesburg approves 1 percent sales tax increase

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg City Council will ask state lawmakers to allow the city to add a 1 percent sales tax to help pay for infrastructure improvements.

"Our revenue has relatively stayed the same," said Kim Bradley, Ward 1 councilman. "We had a little spike after Katrina, a little fall with the fall of the economy in 2008 and 2009, and we've come back with a general fund of about $46 to $47 million dollars. We cannot continue to operate this city on that same dollar."

If the legislature approves the new tax, Hattiesburg must hold a special election where at least 60 percent of voters approve the measure. Jackson overwhelming passed a 1 percent sales tax in 2014, and within the first year, collected more than $22 million in revenue.

"You would be somewhere in the $10 to $11 million dollar range now using conservative numbers," said Lynn Norris, a financial consultant for Hattiesburg.

By adding the additional fee to sales tax, Council President Carter Carroll said everyone using city streets, not just Hattiesburg residents and property owners, will help pay to maintain them.

"We're 46,000 people strong in Hattiesburg, but on any given work day, it's about 100,000 to 150,000 people utilizing our streets," Carroll said. "We need their help in paving, and they should be happy with this because it'll save them from having to get new tires."

Bradley said, "The only ways the city generates revenue is really two ways, and that's in sales tax and ad valorem taxes. Well, I believe we are not at the max, but we're just about at the max of what we can continue to charge the property owners for property here in Hattiesburg. We've got to find another solution to help fund the business of the city. If we're going to have the infrastructure, the streets that the people want to have without going up on ad valorem taxes, this is the only way we're going to get it done."

According to the resolution, the money collected could be used for "(a) establishing sanitary, storm, drainage or sewerage systems, and repairing, improving and extending the same, (b) protecting the city, its streets and sidewalks from overflow, caving banks and other like dangers, (c) constructing, improving or paving streets, sidewalks, driveways, parkways, walkways or public parking facilities or public facilities, and purchasing land therefor, (d) constructing bridges and culverts, (e) altering or changing the channels of streams and water courses to control, deflect or guide the current thereof."

The additional sales tax would not be applied to hotel or motel rooms, beverages, packaged liquor, motor vehicles, restaurants, groceries or prescription drugs.

Carroll said after speaking with legislators from surrounding counties, the money would have to be used for "paving only, not other specific projects, for them to even consider it."

Bradley said repairs to water and sewer systems beneath city streets must be included to make street repairs worthwhile.

"The water problem has got to be fixed first, and then you can fix the streets," Bradley said. "Because it's stupid just to go put asphalt over something that's going to cave in.'

While Carroll worried the wording was already too broad, Mary Dryden, council vice president, argued it wasn't broad enough, saying she wanted the city to be able to pay for water line repairs with extra tax dollars as well. She voted against the measure when that wording wasn't added, making the vote 4-1.

Bradley said it is already hard to convince lawmakers to allow a city to charge the extra tax, and he said it is nearly impossible without a unanimous vote.

"There's no reason for us to go to Jackson and ask if we do not have a unanimous vote," Bradley said. "It was going to be difficult anyway, but if we do not have a unanimous vote, we can forget about the 1 percent (sales tax)."

Carroll said the city previously asked legislators to approve a 1 percent sales tax that included paying for water line repairs "and they denied it."

The council now sends the request to state lawmakers in hopes they approve it this session.