Leakage said to boil down to lack of services

Published 12:24 am Sunday, December 7, 2008

Another meeting of residents that focused on shopping, though lightly attended, came to the same conclusion as past ones, something needs to be done about economic leakage in Picayune.

Tax dollars are flowing out of the county to surrounding areas with more to offer, such as better clothing stores and being able to have a meal with a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage.

Retail providers in Picayune do offer goods and services, but there is a lack of a variety within the city’s limits. Those needs can be filled only by driving to other areas.

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There is a Stage department store in Picayune, but it does not match the offerings of stores such as JC Penny, said Carol Fitzwilliam.

Some public consensus is that those nonexistent services would locate in Picayune only if liquor were allowed in the county. In order for currently unavailable services to come to the area changes have to be made, Melvin Hicks said.

Some residents fear that allowing liquor into the county will bring saloons and brothels to the community in locations that could be harmful, such as next to schools, churches and residential areas.

Council member Leavern Guy said the city has strict ordinances that regulate the location of, and the type of, establishments that can open in the city. Businesses selling alcohol are required to have a certain percentage of their income derived from prepared food. Attorney Buddy McDonald agreed city ordinances keep things civil and used Hattiesburg as an example.

“It has not become a problem in that area,” McDonald said.

Hicks suggested educating the public about the reality of what liquor would do for the county and the city alike, and allow citizens to make an informed decision. Guy said due to the city’s ordinances, the public would not have to worry about saloons sprouting up all over the city.

Currently, Picayune does allow the sale of beer and light wine beverages, Guy said.

A number of restaurants in the city limits sell beer, including Pizza Hut, two Mexican restaurants and some Chinese restaurants.

“That’s what we are really talking about, is increasing the percentage of alcohol content … because we already have beer and wine coolers,” Guy said.

McDonald estimates that there are a lot of residents in the county that now break the law by buying liquor and wine elsewhere and bringing it home.

Guy suggested that if the public opinion was there, the council could set forth an ordinance that would allow liquor into the city.

McDonald disagreed, saying that for the city to allow liquor in on its own without a vote by county residents, the Legislature would have to give its approval.

More businesses in the city would increase the sales tax generated in the county, which in turn could lower millage rates, McDonald said.

The current lack of goods and services in the city is forcing young people who have money to spend to do so elsewhere. As a retirement community, Picayune brings in the elderly, but the people who work for a living and have more money to spend, are spending their money in places other than Picayune, McDonald said. More goods and services are needed to attract and keep young people in the area.

Mayor Greg Mitchell said he is concerned that if too many new businesses come into the area, such as RaceTrac, duplicating what is already here, they could hurt established businesses,

“You may be robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said every time he passes the new gas station, it is always full, and he wonders what that is doing to gas stations that were here before RaceTrac.

Guy disagreed and used a past experience as an example. He said local businesses had fears of losing business when Wal-Mart first came to town. Now there are a number of businesses that have sprouted up around Wal-Mart and others that are doing better since Wal-Mart came. An example is the garden department in Wal-Mart.

“You can’t go nowhere and get the service that Paul Bounds provides,” Guy said.

The information gathered during the past meetings will be presented to the city council at its next meeting.