There's nothing novel about 2% tax

By CLAY MCFERRIN,

Some people have a strong opinion about whether a 2% restaurant tax to benefit parks, recreation and tourism promotion will be a good thing for the city of Charleston.

The tax was authorized during the 2019 legislative session through a bill introduced by District 14 state Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona, and subsequently adopted by both chambers before being signed by the governor.

Still, the question of whether to embrace the taxing authority was left to the voters of Charleston to decide.

Predictably, while many people rained down thoughts and opinions from atop their soapboxes, less than one-fourth of the registered voters of Charleston chose to weigh in where it really mattered — at the ballot box. 

When the dust from last week’s special election had settled, the tax, which will be charged in addition to the regular state sales tax of 7%, had gained the support of 81% of those who voted — exceeding the required 60% nod.

We can expect the new tax to take effect May 1, City Attorney Tommy Reynolds has said.

The Sun-Sentinel wrote a number of stories about the matter leading up to a March 3 public referendum, including covering a town hall-style meeting that was held a week-and-a-half before polls opened.

Those stories first appeared on our website at www.tallahatchienews.ms and then were shared via link to our Facebook page at facebook.com/TheSunSentinel.

That is where the commentary about the pros and cons of the proposed 2% tax on locally prepared foods and beverages took flight a few weeks ago.

Most of the comments on that forum were written by people who did not support the new tax.

Some suggested that local restaurants and convenience store delicatessens would suffer a profound loss of customers from having to charge, for instance, an additional 2 cents on a $1 corn dog.

Others said the trickle-down effect might endanger the future livelihood of Charleston’s only grocery, although any impact on that business would be purely collateral in nature as the store does not prepare any foods or beverages on the premises. And regular grocery items are not subject to the 2% tax.

Several posters expressed concerns that monies raised from the additional tax levy — the Mississippi Tax Commission estimates that Charleston could realize as much as $40,000 per year — might not be utilized by local officials in the stipulated manner. Reynolds has stressed that proceeds will be earmarked and placed into a special, separate fund for parks, recreation, tourism and nothing else.

Still, I don’t know what the future holds. I make plans, I devise strategies and I have hope and exercise faith that they will come to fruition, but I really do not know. No one does. Or can. Not really.

One thing I do know is that this additional tax levy soon to come online in the city of Charleston is one that dozens of cities and counties around Mississippi have embraced.

The state Department of Revenue website lists more than 100 special tax levies that have been adopted by municipalities and counties both large and small, including many in our area.

Batesville, Carrollton, Cleveland, Coahoma County, Como, Greenwood, Grenada, Hernando, Holly Springs, Horn Lake, Houston, Montgomery County, North Carrollton, Oxford, Pontotoc, Sardis, Senatobia, Southaven, Tunica and Winona are a few governments that have tacked on local taxes ranging from 1% to 3% to benefit  parks, recreation, tourism, economic development and more.

Some of those taxes have been on the books for decades. Some were adopted within recent years.

I cannot speak to the economic impact those taxes have had in all of these communities, but many of them we know well by reputation.

Personally, in Charleston’s case, I doubt a 2% sales tax addition is going to hinder many people from purchasing a corn dog, hamburger, fried chicken or fountain drink. Two percent is a very negligible amount. It would increase the cost of a $5 purchase by 10 cents and a $10 fresh food order by 20 cents.  A $20 buy will cost an extra 40 cents. If anyone wanted to purchase $100 worth of Bumpers meal deals, they would pay a whole $2 more in taxes to benefit recreation in a city that so desperately needs more and better recreational opportunities.

We complain about and lament the lack of good, wholesome recreational and educational opportunities for young people and families in Charleston, and we point at surrounding cities and wonder why we can’t enjoy some of their successes in those areas of community life.

It’s not because people in Charleston are not thinking about it, wanting it, planning for it.  It takes money. A use tax, whether on a gallon of gas or a box of fried chicken, seems to be a fair way to raise funds for these programs. And, again, many of our surrounding cities have a special tax on prepared food and use it for community-building.

My family and I frequent local eateries as much as we can, but on those occasions when we are out of town and choose to dine out at, say, Cracker Barrel in Batesville or Applebee’s in Grenada, the last thing on my mind is the amount of the tax. I order food, get the check, pay the bill and don’t stop to think about how much in additional taxes I might be paying to benefit Batesville or Grenada youth and other activities.

Charleston deserves better.  Money alone will not solve these areas of need if the caretakers do not plan, budget, spend and execute wisely, but that could be said about any money collected by government from any source — including property taxes.

Since I live outside the Charleston city limits, I could not vote on the 2% tax.  Had I been able to do so, I would have voted “for the tax.”

One quote often attributed to Albert Einstein — “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”  —  comes to mind.

This is a new thing. We will have new money for parks, recreation and tourism in Charleston. Time will tell whether the results will be different and, if so, how.

My crystal ball is broken, but I will work my faith by supporting local eateries, enjoying some good food while also making an investment in the future of my hometown.


Clay McFerrin is editor and publisher of The Sun-Sentinel.  Contact him at clay@charlestonsun.net.

Obituaries

CHARLESTON —  Albert Curtis Jr., age 76, passed away Sunday, March 29.

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