Jackson County

Pascagoula will vote on 2% restaurant tax to promote recreation

A cyclist rides along the Pascagoula Bike Trail on Sunday, September 23, 2012. Pascagoula goes to the polls Tuesday to vote on a tax to support recreation, including park upkeep.
A cyclist rides along the Pascagoula Bike Trail on Sunday, September 23, 2012. Pascagoula goes to the polls Tuesday to vote on a tax to support recreation, including park upkeep. amccoy@sunherald.com File

Pascagoula voters will decide Tuesday whether to add a 2 percent restaurant tax that would fund citywide recreation.

The biggest proponents of the tax on restaurant and fast-food bills are the parents and recreation-league presidents who want to see improvement to ballfields, said Stan Flint, a marketing expert hired to get the referendum passed amid what is expected to be low voter turnout. He said other supporters include businesses and Resurrection Catholic School parents.

Flint said the money generated from the pass-through tax — $800,000 to $1.2 million a year — will support all types of recreation, including walking trails, but upgrades and improvements to existing buildings and ballfields will come first. Some of them need to be brought up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

The tax is strictly an addition to prepared-food bills, Flint said. It won’t cost the business, he said. He estimated half of people eating prepared food in Pascagoula don’t live there.

The way he sees it, the tax will help residents get support for recreation from nonresidents who work, eat and buy gas in Pascagoula.

5,000 lost since Katrina

Pascagoula is losing population, he said — 5,000 people since Katrina in 2005 — and studies show communities that invest in recreation grow in population.

Flint called the referendum a low-budget campaign. Roughly $10,000 has been spent to get the tax passed. He grew up in Pascagoula and said he and other vendors helping the effort have donated some of their money to the cause.

The campaign is contacting frequent voters by phone and mail, as well as social media.

If it passes, the tax is expected to generate $4.8 million over the next four years, the length of time it will be in place before anyone can challenge or repeal it.

Flint said one business, a barbecue restaurant, has already expressed concern the added 2 percent to the bill might cost it customers. But he said it doesn’t show up on the menu — it’s on the final bill, along with the sales tax.

Some always vote ‘no’

Flint said some people will vote against anything that is a tax. The campaign will need to overcome that if it’s going to succeed, he said.

After city ballfields and buildings are upgraded, Flint said, the money will go into a fund for residents to decide what else they want to fund.

He pointed out improvements to recreation go hand in hand with the green and ecotourism marketing planned for Jackson County by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Surrounding communities such as Biloxi and Mobile have similar taxes on prepared food, he said, so it doesn’t put businesses in Pascagoula at a disadvantage. Prepared food also can be food sold at convenience stores or deli counters. It does not include groceries.

“If anyone cares about their recreation system, they need to vote, because in an election with less than 1,000 votes expected, every vote counts,” Flint said.

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