A referendum for a 2 percent restaurant tax to fund citywide recreation failed by a less than 4 percent margin Tuesday.
Preliminary, unofficial results placed the tally at 757-589 in favor of the tax. The 56.2 percent fell just shy of the 60 percent majority required to push the measure through.
The biggest proponents of the tax on restaurant and fast-food tabs were the parents and recreation-league presidents who want to see improvement to ballfields, said Stan Flint, a marketing expert hired to try to get the referendum passed amid low voter turnout. He said other supporters included businesses and Resurrection Catholic School parents.
Flint said the money generated from the pass-through tax — $800,000 to $1.2 million a year — would have supported all types of recreation, including walking trails, but upgrades and improvements to existing buildings and ballfields would have come first. Some of them need to be brought up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The tax was strictly an addition to prepared-food bills, Flint said. It would not have cost the businesses, he said. He estimated half of people eating prepared food in Pascagoula don’t live there.
In Flint’s view, the tax would have helped 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 — it’s down by 5,000 people since Katrina in 2005 — and studies show communities that invest in recreation grow in population.
Flint had 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 who helped the effort donated some of their money to the cause.
The tax was expected to generate $4.8 million over the next four years, the length of time it would have been in place before anyone could challenge or repeal it.
Flint said one business, a barbecue restaurant, expressed concern the added 2 percent to the bill would cost it customers. But the tax wouldn’t have appeared on the menu — it would have shown up 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 was trying to overcome that in order to succeed, he said.
After making upgrades to ballfields and buildings, Flint said, the money would have gone into a fund for residents to decide what else they wanted 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 Ocean Springs and Mobile have similar taxes on prepared food, he said, adding it wouldn’t have put businesses in Pascagoula at a disadvantage. Prepared food also can be food sold at convenience stores or deli counters. The tax would not have included groceries.