Improvement in city’s image boosting sales tax revenues

Published 10:30 am Monday, July 13, 2015

The city of Vicksburg’s sales tax revenues are slowly increasing, and members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen say the reason for the upturn is the image the city has projected over the past two years.

“We’re speaking as one voice. We’re saying the city of Vicksburg,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “All cylinders are clicking: the VCVB (Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau) Board, the VCC (Vicksburg Convention Center) Board, everybody’s working together.”

“I’ve seen when the city and all of its auxiliaries were split, (and) everybody was out doing their own thing, trying to make sure they stayed afloat,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said. “And now you have the chamber and Main Street and the city and county and all of them working together.”

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The State of Mississippi assesses a 7 percent sales tax on all goods bought in Vicksburg and reimburses 18 percent of the total collections back to the city. Sales tax revenue accounts for more than 25 percent of the revenue used to run the city.

According the city’s accounting department, sales tax revenues in Vicksburg totaled $7.71 million in fiscal 2014, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. The total was $38,591more than the $7.67 million collected in 2013. The 2013 collections were the lowest in three years from 2014 to 2012. The city received $7.7 million in fiscal 2012, $501,229 more than 2011, which was affected by the spring Mississippi River flood, which reached record heights in Vicksburg, cresting at 57.1 feet on May 19, 14.1 feet above flood stage and nine-tenths of a foot above the Great Flood of 1927.

Besides the 7 percent sales tax, the city assesses an extra 2 percent sales tax on hotel room rentals to fund the Vicksburg Convention Center. There is an additional 1 percent sales tax assessed on all hotel room rentals and food and beverages sold in Vicksburg and Warren County to fund the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The 1 percent tax for the Convention and Visitors Bureau totaled $1.151 million in 2014, $71,425 over the 2013 collections of $1.12 million, according to VCVB records. Presently, the visitors bureau has received $583,804 in tax reimbursements, putting it on pace to exceed 2014’s total, despite low tourist traffic in March and April, prime spring break periods, because of frigid weather, which featured sub-freezing temperatures and ice and snow.

In contrast, the special 2 percent convention center tax has declined over the past three years, from $600,928 in 2012 to $529,116 in 2014, a net drop of $71,812 for that period.

“That has surprised us, especially because of all the activity we’ve had recently,” convention center executive director Annette Kirklin said, adding she hopes the tax revenue picture will improve before the fiscal year ends. “In the meantime, we’re watching our expenses and keeping an eye on the revenue each month.”

Mayfield said the city’s improvement was a topic of discussion at the Mississippi Municipal League Conference in Biloxi recently. Officials from several cities and towns said they were impressed with what was going on in Vicksburg.

“To me, that says a lot,” he said. “That people from the outside notice you’re together, sales taxes are going to go up because the citizens feel good about it, you’re having people come in from outside the rims of your city, then you can’t help but improve. It depends on what you show the people, and that in turn brings it back to you 10-fold.”

He added despite their recent disagreements, the members of the board “are in agreement about the city and not us individually. I’ve seen times when it was different.”

“I think people invest in a city that’s being taken care of,” South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson said.

“We’re investing in our infrastructure, making beautification efforts; we’ve seen several new developments come since just our tenure began two years ago.”

He pointed to development along Pemberton Square Boulevard and off Halls Ferry Road as an indication “people are looking at Vicksburg as a place to invest, and I think as we offer more incentives and more opportunities to come into the city and become more diversified, more people will begin to look at Vicksburg to do business, to work, to play, raise a family.”

“We’re seeing those accomplishments locally, but outside of Vicksburg everybody’s seeing it too,” Thompson added.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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