Starkville, Natchez, Hattiesburg seek permission for local taxes

Published 4:14 pm Friday, April 11, 2008

Football fans might pay more lodging in Starkville and tourists might shell out a few extra bucks for hotel rooms after admiring the antebellum homes in Natchez.

Starkville and Natchez are among the cities seeking legislative approval for the process of creating local taxes.

The House approved several local bills Thursday, and those now move to the Senate.

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The bills would give local residents the option of voting to create new taxes.

Starkville wants to create a 1 percent hotel, motel and restaurant tax to pay for economic-development projects.

Natchez wants to add $2 a day to occupied hotel and motel rooms to pay for tourism promotion.

Hattiesburg wants to put a 1 percent sales tax on many retail items — but not on groceries, cars, liquor or farm equipment. The new tax would help pay for improvements to streets, sewer lines, street lights, sidewalks and public facilities.

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree watched from a Capitol balcony as the House debated his city’s bill. In an interview after the bill passed, he said the city has not increased property taxes in 10 years.

“You’ve got to take care of the basics before you can start industry coming in and retirees coming in and continuing to develop,” DuPree said. “That’s the first thing. If you don’t have the foundation, you don’t have anything at all.”

The Hattiesburg bill passed the House 84-32 after Rep. Harvey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said he opposed it. His district includes Hattiesburg suburbs, and many of his constituents drive into the city to shop.

“The people I represent, by and large, would not have a voice in (the tax),” Fillingane said.

The Hattiesburg tax proposal is expected to have a tough time in the Senate, where other suburban lawmakers oppose it.

The Natchez bill passed the House 120-0. The Starkville bill passed 114-6.

The House also voted 114-6 for a bill to let McComb impose a small local property tax to supplement the pensions for retired firefighters and police officers.

Another bill that passed the House 114-6 would let Pascagoula collect its 3 percent hotel and motel tax for three more years. The tax is set to expire July 1, but the legislation would let it survive until 2011.

The bills are House Bills 1728, 1701, 1692, 1644 and 1546.