City lowers expectations for casino tax collections

Published 11:45 am Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Low activity at Vicksburg’s riverboat casinos during April and May and early June has forced city officials to reduce the anticipated gaming revenue for the current fiscal year.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday reduced the city’s anticipated $5.5 million in revenue from the state’s 3.2 percent tax on gaming machines by $420,000, and its $1.13 million share of 0.8 percent state gaming tax by $68,000.

The budget amendments were two of 26 approved by the board during some financial housecleaning before the close of the fiscal year.

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State law prohibits local governments from making budget amendments to their general funds after Aug. 31, city accountant Doug Whittington said. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

High water affected business at the city’s five casinos during the 2011 Mississippi River flood, when the river crested at 57.1 feet on May 19, 14.1 feet above flood stage and 1.3 feet above the Great Flood of 1927.

Flooding forced DiamondJacks to close for 36 days and Rainbow for 14. Grand Station, located downtown, was closed for remodeling after new owners took over the casino and hotel.

“Those (casino) closures had a definite effect,” Whittington said.

Vicksburg’s five casinos pay a 3.2 percent revenue tax to the state that is divided — with 10 percent going to schools, 25 percent to Warren County and 65 percent to the city. A second revenue tax is a 0.8 percent share of the state’s 8.8 percent revenue tax. It is split based on population proportions between Vicksburg and Warren County. Each casino is also required to pay $150 for each gaming device annually to the city.

Other budget amendments Monday included:

• Reducing the city’s share of taxes from personal automobile sales by $54,000. Whittington said revenue from the tax has been dropping since 2009, when the city received $527,000. It received $488,000 in 2010, and as of June was at $296,000 for the current fiscal year.

• Increasing the city’s share of business personal property tax revenue by $417,000. The tax is placed on furniture and office equipment.

In another budget matter, there were no objections Monday to renewing a special 5.05-mill tax to fund the city’s Main Street program.

The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen held a public hearing on the 25-year-old tax, which is levied on commercial buildings in the city’s designated Main Street District, which includes downtown businesses in the city’s central business district. The tax pays for the program’s operations.

Main Street employee salaries, benefits and equipment purchases are funded through the city’s general fund, which also provides $1,200 for the annual Vicksburg Farmers’ Market and $34,000 for advertising, said Kim Hopkins, executive director of Vicksburg Main Street.

The tax was approved by the Legislature in 1986, and must be renewed annually. It becomes effective after the board approves its fiscal 2011-12 budget.

According to the city accounting office, the tax raised $44,257 in 2009 and $43,544 in 2010. The projected revenue for the upcoming fiscal year is $43,700.

Vicksburg Main Street is part of a statewide program established to encourage economic growth by improving central business districts and promoting tourism. The local arm is governed by a nine-member volunteer board elected by members of the taxing district.