Miss. Senate rejects tax option for local parks

Published 11:29 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mississippi senators on Monday narrowly rejected a proposal to let cities increase property taxes to pay for parks and recreation.

Supporters said local officials need more flexibility to build ball parks, golf courses and other facilities. Opponents said it’s a bad idea to put more financial burdens on homeowners during a recession.

Under current state law, a city can collect up to 2 mills for parks and playgrounds. A proposal by Democratic Sen. Bob Dearing of Natchez would’ve given cities the option to collect up to 4 mills.

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A mill is a tax of one-thousandth of a dollar levied on the assessed value of the property. For example, on a home with an assessed value of $100,000, a 1 mill tax would be $100 a year.

Republican Sen. Billy Hewes of Gulfport was among those arguing that property owners already are overtaxed.

“The theme of this debate could be, ‘It takes a millage to raise a child,”’ Hewes said to groans from some colleagues.

Under the bill, the tax increase would not mandatory. Dearing said senators should trust local elected officials to be prudent.

“I know times are tough,” Dearing said. “I know if they don’t need to put a millage increase on for recreation, they won’t do it.”

The bill needed a three-fifths majority to pass, or 30 votes. It got 29 votes and was held for the possibility of more debate; 21 senators voted against it.

Republican Sen. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo opposed the bill, but only after proposing that people who lose their homes because of high taxes would be authorized to sleep in any parks built with the tax increase.

The failure of the parks and recreation tax bill came days after the Senate narrowly passed a bill that would lead to a local sales tax in the capital city. Jackson voters decide whether to boost the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent on many items in the capital city. If 60 percent of voters approve, the tax would be kept in place for five years to help pay for local law enforcement, fire protection and road repairs.

The Jackson tax bill passed 30-18 on Friday, getting one more vote than it needed for a three-fifths majority. It also has been held for the possibility of more debate, and opponents are hoping to flip at least one vote to kill the bill when it comes up again.

The bills are Senate Bills 3125 and 3268.