City wants county to agree to lower sales tax increase

Published 11:45 am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The next step in securing funding for a proposed recreational complex could come today after the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meet to discuss asking the Warren County Board of Supervisors to support a ½ percent countywide sales tax.

The City Board previously had asked supervisors to consider approving a tax of ½ percent or 1 percent.

If supervisors go along, the proposal to hike sales taxes to raise up to $20 million to pay for the complex could be decided by Warren County voters when they go to the polls in the presidential election Nov. 6.

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This morning’s meeting was to include the supervisors, but Mayor Paul Winfield said Monday afternoon he did not know if any would attend. Board of Supervisors President Bill Lauderdale said Monday afternoon he had a prior commitment.

If supervisors do not put the tax on the November ballot, Winfield said, he will introduce a resolution asking the Mississippi Legislature to approve a citywide ½ percent sales tax and set a separate referendum.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said the board needs to discuss the sports complex further with supervisors before going ahead with a countywide referendum.

He said he talked to Lauderdale, District 2 Supervisor William Banks and District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, adding, “They are uncertain at this time whether to put this on their agenda.”

Winfield last week discussed the sports complex with supervisors during a work session, but supervisors did not endorse the plan. Later that week, the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors endorsed the concept of the sports complex, but not the funding plan.

“We wanted the particulars of the program because our constituents don’t want us to write a blank check,” Banks said Monday afternoon. “They want to know what he’s going to do with the money.”

“I’m not going to ask the people to vote yea or nay on something I don’t have enough information on,” Selmon said. “If we don’t understand the program, how can we explain it to them and answer their questions?”

Winfield made his initial push for the sports complex in January.

He introduced the countywide sales tax at a March 12 meeting on the sports complex.

The city in 2003 paid $325,000 for a 200-acre tract on Fisher Ferry Road for a sports complex, but 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 is not suitable because part of the property, including the access route, is in a flood zone.

Also, in 2007, the city board 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.