Ocean Springs eyes dining tax for bars, restaurants

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ocean Springs officials may ask the Legislature to approve a local food and beverage tax, which they said would generate substantial money for law enforcement and recreation.

Officials said the tax, which would likely be a 2 percent assessment added to restaurant and bar tabs, would pay for new ballfields and possibly a public safety complex for police and fire, and the building might house a new jail.

The tax would not apply to grocery sales.

Aldermen voted this past week to explore the possibility.

“What we will do is get public input and develop a strategy to work with the Legislature on this,” Mayor Connie Moran said. “But let’s be clear, if it does pass, then it will go to the public for a vote by referendum.”

Moran said the tax would be good for recreation, as many people from outside the city participate in the youth leagues. And in addition to a new public safety center, city officials have plans for a new sports complex to be built on Mississippi 57.

Officials said it is unclear how much a food and beverage tax would bring in because new calculations are needed based on the city’s burgeoning restaurant industry.

As of last month, 12 new restaurants and two new bars had opened since Katrina. The new businesses represent an increase of nearly a third over a year ago.

Patrick Sullivan, owner of Government Street Grocery, said he didn’t support a 2 percent tax.

“I don’t have any problems with helping the city raise money, I just don’t like to pass on anything to the clients I don’t have to,” Sullivan said. “It’s a hard-earned dollar that everyone is spending.”

Sullivan said a 1 percent tax would be a little more realistic.