CATEGORY: Marshall County
HED:Holly Springs moves ahead with tourism tax
By Michaela Gibson Morris
Holly Springs aldermen are moving ahead with plans for a 2 percent tourism sales tax with plans to build a multipurpose recreation center.
“This is an economic development strategy as well as tourism for the community,” said Mayor Eddie Smith during a Tuesday night public hearing.
The additional sales tax on lodging and restaurant food should be take effect no later than January, possibly sooner depending on the action of the state Tax Commission, Smith said.
In conjunction with the tourism sales tax, the city board is moving forward with a $1 million bond issue that will build a multipurpose recreation center and provide $100,000 in seed money to set up a tourism commission to promote the city.
The tourism sales tax revenue, expected to be at least $150,000 a year, will be used to repay the bond issue and provide annual funding for the tourism commission, Smith said.
Historic homes, museums and Rust College are already drawing visitors to Holly Springs.
“There are many things in Holly Springs that bring in tourists,” said Ruth Kloha, Chamber of Commerce executive director. The chamber, which has helped organize bus tours of the town, did not take an position on the tourism tax.
Petition falls short
A petition drive to bring the tourism sales tax to a referendum did not gather the required number of signatures from registered voters. The tax opponents gathered nearly 1,000 signatures, short about 100 signatures needed to meet the 20 percent of city voters required to challenge the proposed tax, Smith said.
Several people attending a public hearing Tuesday night said they were concerned that such a large part of the tourism tax revenue was going to fund a city recreation center.
Smith said the authorization for the tourism sales tax approved by the state Legislature includes provisions for recreational facilities.
Oxford for example, used money from its tourism tax to build a University of Mississippi baseball field.
Several residents defended the need for a recreation center and meeting place that would be open to all members of the community.
“We don’t have anything to offer our children,” one resident said during the public hearing.
Another resident said he was concerned that support of the tourism commission and upkeep on the multipurpose center would eventually lead to higher property taxes.
Board of aldermen members said they had avoided millage increases for city operations in the last seven years, primarily through increased sales tax revenues.
City officials hope to begin work on the $700,000 center by spring, Smith said. It will be located in Spring Hollow Park, behind the city Police Department, where the fresh water spring that gives the city its name is located.
Another $200,000 is budgeted for land acquisition and engineering fees for the project, Smith said. Additional money will have to be raised for landscaping.
The multipurpose center will have a large indoor space that could accommodate two basketball courts or a tennis court, and several smaller meeting rooms. Smith estimates it will be able to hold more than 2,000 people for special events.
The multipurpose center will be run by the Parks and Recreation commission, but the tourism commission will be promoting the center for special events and outside groups, Smith said.