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Restaurant Association backs plan that would fund new sports complex

Despite an apparent lack of high profile publicity, Vicksburg officials say many people across the city seem to support the proposed sports complex and the 2 percent sales tax to fund it.

The city wants to build a multipurpose sports complex on its property off Fisher Ferry Road and fund it with a 2 percent tax on hotel rooms and food and beverages sold in the city.

A referendum on the tax is included on the June 6 general election ballot for municipal offices. Sixty percent of the total voters voting in the election must approve the tax for it to pass. The special tax is expected to raise $1 million a year for the sports complex, and has a repealer, which drops the tax after the project is paid off. If approved, it would go into effect Oct. 1, the start of the city’s fiscal year.

“It seems like the majority of the people so far are in favor of it,” said North Ward Aldermen Michael Mayfield. He said his comments are based on the response he’s received from people as he campaigns for re-election through his ward.

“I personally have taken it upon myself to mention it to people, and I’m pleasantly surprised I’m not hearing any negativity about it, because I though I would.”

“Everyone who’s talked about it to me is for it,” said South Ward Aldermen Willis Thompson. “They understand what it does for the city, they understand the funding mechanism, and there are some people who have been waiting for it (the complex) for a long time. I haven’t gotten any negative feedback; it’s all positive. Even before campaign season, there’s been more for it than against it.”

The board in March hired Octagon Media of Baton Rouge, La., for $22,350 to help promote the sports complex and the educate voters about the tax, but other than some signs around the city, some promotions in public buildings, a Facebook site, and a press release saying Mayor George Flaggs Jr. supports it, there has been little evidence of a solid effort to push the tax.

Flaggs and Thompson said the company is expected to begin mail-outs and phone calls to registered voters reminding them of the referendum and supporting the tax as election day approaches.

“I think the city could have done a slightly better job of getting the word out a little more and answering the unanswered questions in the 11th hour,” said Omar Nelson, who chaired the city’s recreation committee and supports the tax.

In the press release, Flaggs is quoted as saying, “The amount of opportunities that rise with the proposes sports complex are endless.”

“Many citizens are concerned about the 2 percent increase, but the burden of the tax falls heaviest on tourists as it applies only to hotels, motels and restaurants.”

The Mississippi Legislature in 2016 approved a local and private, or special bill, allowing the city to levy up to a 2 percent sales tax on hotel rooms and food and beverages sold in the city with the approval of voters in a referendum.

Vicksburg already levies a 2 percent hotel tax to fund the Vicksburg Convention Center. Warren County residents pay a special 1 percent county tax on food and beverages passed by the Legislature in 1972 to fund the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. Those taxes are in addition to the statewide 7 percent sales tax everyone pays when they buy something from a store, book a hotel room and eat a meal at a restaurant.

If the special tax passes, Flaggs said, the board will repeal the 2 percent hotel tax for the convention center and make up the difference from the general fund.

“What the board will have to do is adopt a resolution repealing the convention center tax and send that to the State Tax Commission,” city attorney Nancy Thomas said. “Then they will have to adopt a resolution setting the tax rate.”

Presently, people eating in a restaurant pay 8 cents tax for every dollar they spend, a combination of the 7 percent sales tax and the 1 percent county tax. People staying in a hotel pay a total tax of 10 cents on the dollar — the combination of the state sales tax, county tax and the 2 percent convention center tax.

If the tax passes, people will pay a total sales tax of 10 cents on each dollar they spend when they eat at a restaurant or rent a hotel room.

At a Jan.9, public hearing, Patrick Farno, a project analyst for The Sports Force, said the projected economic impact to the city after five years was estimated at $32.5 million and could draw people within a four-hour drive from Vicksburg.

The Sports Force estimated the cost for the project at $19 million, although the exact costs would not be able to be determined until the design phase of the project. The design for the complex uses 75 acres of the 200-acre Fisher Ferry property and avoids any impact from flood-prone areas of the property.

According to an artist’s rendering, the project would feature seven multiuse fields that can be used for soccer, baseball or softball; and championship fields for baseball, soccer and softball — all made of synthetic turf, as well as a splash pad, ropes course, walking track and other recreation activities, including a miniature golf course.

“The sports complex idea has been beaten up, beaten down, and bounced around for a number of years,” said Vicksburg Restaurant Association president Joyce Clingan in a letter on behalf of the association’s support of the tax.“This administration, today, has made the plan and now it is time for us to make the stand.”

She said tourism in the past 10 years has grown by 27 percent in Vicksburg, adding, “Let us capitalize on this growth. Mayor Flaggs is one the most informed persons I know about financing with the tourist tax and I have seen his numbers and know that we will do this with our collection from people who stay in our hotels and eat in our local restaurants.”

“We have spent enough time, money and effort to have this paid for.”

Nelson called the tax vote “a seminal moment for Vicksburg to pass what I think to be one of the most important economic development initiatives of its kind. The benefits of a sports complex will create jobs, improve the quality of life for people of all ages, foster a stronger tourism market, strengthen the local tax base and increase the volume of patrons to our businesses.”

The referendum, he said, “Should not be looked at as a tax but an opportunity.”

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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