New plan: All of county pays more sales taxWinfield unveils two possible sites for recreation complex

Published 12:05 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2012

All of Warren County would pay more sales tax to fund a sports complex under an alternate plan presented Monday night by Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield.

“I met with different groups and discussed funding alternatives,” Winfield said after a public meeting with members of the Warren County legislative delegation. “It was supported by the restaurant association and was well-received tonight.”

Winfield’s new funding plan calls for an across-the-board sales tax of ½ percent or 1 percent to raise an estimated $2.5 million or $5.04 million annually to repay up to $20 million borrowed to buy land and develop a sports complex outside the city.

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletter

Receive daily headlines and obituaries

Sales tax across Mississippi currently is 7 percent.

Previously, Winfield had proposed the funding come from an increase of 2 percent on hotel rooms and an increase of 1½ percent on food and beverages purchased inside the city.

At Monday’s two-hour meeting, more than 70 people spilled out of the City Hall Annex meeting room.

Winfield also Monday made public for the first time two tracts of land he said are being considered as possible sites: a 140-acre tract on U.S. 61 North, north of River Region Medical Center; and a 200-acre tract on U.S. 80 and Mississippi 27 adjacent to Warren Central High School.

He said after the meeting that he would talk with members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors during their next work session — scheduled for March 26 — about extending the sales tax into the county.

District 1 Supervisor John Arnold, the only supervisor at Monday night’s meeting, said he supports the sports complex and the sales tax proposal, but wants more information on how the tax would be collected.

Arnold’s four fellow board members said this morning they wanted more information from Winfield on the sales tax proposal before they would comment.

Board President Bill Lauderdale said a sales tax would be a fairer way to fund the complex than a millage increase, but was not sure how the county could do a sales tax. Unlike cities, counties do not get a share of the state’s sales tax.

“I’d like more information on how they propose to do that,” he said.

Winfield’s alternative proposal drew immediate support from several people in the audience, including members of the city’s hospitality industry.

“I am a great supporter of the sports complex. We definitely need it,” said Randy Wright, owner of Goldie’s Trail Bar-B-Q. “I also support the alternate method of using the 1 percent or .5 percent sales tax.”

Vicksburg resident Dick Ferguson called the sales tax proposal “the fairest way to fund it,” adding he felt it should be countywide.

Winfield said he would meet with members of the city’s hospitality industry, local retailers, the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said he wants to make sure he has the community behind the alternatives before moving ahead.

Joyce Clingan, president of Vicksburg’s Chapter of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, said her group could possibly meet with the mayor next week. The association, which met last week in opposition to the increased tax on hotels and food and beverages, said those taxes would adversely affect business and the incomes of servers who make some of their salaries through tips.

“Don’t penalize our wait staff, who are the backbone of our business,” she said.

Once he had the backing from the trade organizations, Winfield said, the board will rescind a Feb. 19 resolution asking the Mississippi Legislature to approve a 2 percent raise in the city’s hotel tax and a 1.5 percent on food and replace it with a resolution seeking ½ or 1 percent sales tax.

State Sen. Briggs Hopson III and state Rep. Alex Monsour said they would wait until the board votes on a new resolution before presenting anything to their respective houses in the Legislature.

“We’ll wait and see what he sends us,” state Rep. George Flaggs said. “But he (Winfield) must remember two things. For it to go countywide requires a joint resolution from the city and the county, or a resolution from each board. If it is countywide, it will require a countywide referendum. But I’m glad they’ve decided to slow down.”

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, who left the meeting early, said the proposed sports complex should be a combined effort.

“Vicksburg is a city in Warren County and Warren County has no city other than Vicksburg,” he said. “There needs to be a sports complex sponsored by Warren County, and I think the citizens should pay equally. Every citizen has a responsibility. It’s only fair that this be a united effort for the city and the county to participate.

“I’m definitely for a new sports complex,” said Beauman, a former city recreation director. “It’s been a dream of mine since I went to work for the city. It’s something this community needs.”

Besides presenting alternative funding and potential sites, Winfield said an advisory committee would be named Monday to help select a site and plan the park.

“They may decide that Fisher Ferry is the proper site to put the park,” he said. “I would disagree with that, but that may be their recommendation.”

The city in 2003 bought a 200-acre tract on Fisher Ferry Road for a sports complex for $325,000. City officials abandoned the project in 2009 after spending an additional $2.7 million for preliminary plans, engineering and dirt work.

Winfield has said the Fisher Ferry site was not suitable, saying part of the property, including the access route, is in a flood zone.

Winfield promoted increasing the hotel tax and adding the food and beverage tax as the best way to fund the sports park as an alternative to raising property taxes.

In addition to the Fisher Ferry purchase, the city board in 2007 hired USA Partners Sports Alliance of Jacksonville, Fla., for $250,000 to determine the feasibility of a proposed $25 million sports complex at Halls Ferry Park, including Bazinsky Field, proposed by the Aquila Group of Vicksburg. It would have included baseball and softball fields and related amenities, a water park, a baseball stadium/ballpark and facilities for golf, soccer, volleyball, tennis and other activities. The Aquila Group would lead the construction and management of the fields and sports facilities.

The project died after a study by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality found the site was not suitable because part of Halls Ferry Park was built on what was once the city’s landfill.

Under an agreement between the city and USA Partners, which was hired after the Aquila Group approached the city, the company would return the $250,000 feasibility study cost to the city if the complex did not materialize. More than four years later, the city has not been reimbursed.