HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to set a referendum that would allow residents to decide if the city should raise the restaurant, hotel and motel sales tax by 1 percent.
The revenue generated from the proposed tax increase would be used for improving parks and recreation facilities and renovating the Reed Green Coliseum on the Hattiesburg campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.
The election will be held on Tuesday, April 23. If passed by 60 percent of voters, collection of the additional 1 percent sales tax would begin on June 1, 2019.
Mayor Toby Barker discussed the proposal after the resolution passed in the special-called city council meeting.
“We are glad to move forward. We did a year of listening," Barker said. "We did 40 town hall meetings in every part of the city and we asked residents what they want to see to improve your quality of life. These projects that are listed in this proposal came directly from that. Obviously we are looking forward to April 23, because I believe this is a collective decision on what kind of community Hattiesburg, Mississippi will be.”
Barker said the proposed sales tax raise would generate at least $2.4 million in additional revenue for the city.
Half of the revenue generated would go toward parks and recreation projects, and the other half would be used for Reed Green Coliseum renovations. Barker said the added revenue would also allow the city to free up money in the general fund for deficit reduction and provide more recurring funding for infrastructure projects such as roads and drainage improvements.
Barker said the vision for both the city and the University is that renovations would allow the Reed Green Coliseum to function as a municipal arena that would be used for more than just basketball and graduation.
“We are consistently passed up for entertainment opportunities because we do not have a legitimate venue that can hold more than about a thousand people,” Barker said.
According to OneFutureHattiesburg.com, parks and recreation projects that would be funded by the additional tax revenue include:
- Miracle League inclusion field for children with special needs.
- Lighting and drainage improvements to 9th Street Ballpark.
- Drainage improvements to soccer fields at Tatum Park.
- Expansion of walking path at Duncan Lake.
- Tennis facility improvements at Tatum Park.
- Light installation at Friendship Park in East Jerusalem neighborhood.
- New girls softball field at Hattiesburg High.
- Chain Park amphitheater.
- Refinishing of Thames Elementary gym floor for use as indoor recreation facility during non-school hours.
- Splash pad at Sullivan Park in Palmers Crossing.
- Tennis court installation at E 8th Street park.
- Property acquisition for park in Midtown.
- Playground equipment upgrades at Kamper Park.
- Splash pad at Timberton Park.
- Renovations at old Hattiesburg American building into community arts center space.
- Conversion of dilapidated and abandoned property into public green spaces, pocket parks and community gardens
The projects are based on a projected $1.2 million revenue each year for the next three years. Any funds collected above the projected $1.2 million per year will be invested into sidewalks, bike trails and multi-use paths, with focus on:
- S 40th Avenue
- Westover Dr
- E 7th Street
- Quinn Street
- Edwards Street
- N 31st Avenue
- S 17th Avenue
“This elections is an opportunity for the citizens of Hattiesburg to voice whether they want to see certain projects happen around our city that people have asked for for a number of years, but the city has never had the funding to move forward with them,” Ward 1 City Councilman Jeffrey George said.
If passed, the restaurant, hotel and motel sales tax raise would be in effect until June 30, 2022.
The current restaurant sales tax is at 2 percent and funds the Hattiesburg Convention Coimmission, which operates the Convention Center, the Hattiesburg Zoo, the African American Military History Museum, the Saengar Theater and the soon to be Eureka Freedom Summer Museum and the Oseola McCarty Museum, both of which open in 2020.
The current hotel and motel sales tax is also at 2 percent, and it funds the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission, which operates Visit Hattiesburg.
Residents will vote at city precincts. If you have any questions about where you should vote, call 601-545-4522.
For more information on the proposal, visit OneFutureHattiesburg.com.