HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The City of Hattiesburg has started banking revenue from a new 1% sales tax that started appearing on hotel and restaurant bills this summer.
We sat down with the mayor for an in-depth interview about this initiative and what it aims to do for the people of Hattiesburg.
Eighty-one percent of city voters casting ballots in a referendum last April approved the new tax, and the 1% charge took effect in June. Hattiesburg receives half the revenue, the other half going to the University of Southern Mississippi to pay for renovations at Reed Green Coliseum.
The June check totaled $226,272.08, according to officials, with the city receiving $113,136.04 of that.
Mayor Toby Barker told us he’s pleased with the revenue figures he’s seeing so far: They’re better than expected.
“June is typically kind of a down month when it comes to restaurants and hotels,” he said. “We actually had a really good month, over $200,000. So that bodes well for us as we go into the fall months with the students back. We’re excited about the projects, and revenue is meeting projection right now.”
Workers have been refurbishing the gym floor at Thames Elementary School. This is the first project on a list of 17 to be funded by the new tax. City leaders compiled the list, gathering public input from 40 town hall meetings. The mayor says every ward will see progress from this investment.
“Neighborhoods want quality of life,” he said. “They want public safety, they want good schools. These are projects the public asked for. We’ve listened, this is what we think we can do, this is how we can pay for it. And to have them come along beside us was a big step.”
And he says city hall is committed to full transparency about the tax money and what it’s paying for.
“It’s not going to be your typical municipal government website,” he said. “We want people to be able to click and see the winning bid, the expenditures that went out, the revenue that came in. We really want this to be a one-stop shop where people will have absolute confidence where their penny is going.”
In fact, the name of the website is YourPennyAtWork.com, and the city hopes to get it online in October.
Soon after the Hattiesburg referendum last spring, voters in Columbia and Waynesboro also gave overwhelming approval to new sales taxes in their towns that will fund civic improvements.
“The idea of place, and amenities, and quality of life, and parks—that is how cities and towns will recruit and retain people living in their city limits going forward,” Barker said. “You mentioned Waynesboro and Columbia; Starkville did one right after ours as well. It’s a local option, the citizens get to vote on it. I think that it will continue to become a part of communities across the state.”
The mayor says the new sales tax revenue will also have a beneficial side effect on the city budget.