By Randy Bell
Voters in Clinton will decide July 12 if they’re willing to pay a little more when dining out in exchange for better parks and recreational opportunities. The Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 at its May 3 meeting to set the date for a special election on the two per cent restaurant tax proposal which the Mississippi Legislature authorized this year. At least sixty per cent of the voters would have to approve it for the extra sales tax to be collected beginning in August.
Mayor Phil Fisher said Clinton would become the ninety-first city in Mississippi to have a restaurant tax to generate money for parks and recreation.
“Just about everywhere you go, you’re already paying this tax,” he said. Fisher said with a budget of only $17 million, the City “can’t squeeze out money” for park projects without the additional tax, which could bring in about $1 million each year. The Mayor said Clinton could double the amount by using the revenue as a fifty per cent match for available grants.
He said the tax would mean only seventy cents more on a $35 dollar restaurant check and would not apply to grocery purchases.
Ward 2 Alderman Jim Martin voted against the tax proposal, as he did last year when the idea first came up.
“My philosophy is, I don’t want to raise taxes,” Martin said. “That’s one of the problems that we always have in government. There’s always a lot more things to do than you have money to do them.” But he said at least voters will have a chance to make the final decision on this tax.
And Martin said, “If the citizens approve it, we will do a good job of spending that money. The parks certainly need improvement and all the help they can get.”
Ward 4 Alderman Chip Wilbanks is urging voters to support the restaurant tax.
“There’s a limited number of dollars in the budget and so much need [in the parks],” Wilbanks said. And, with the revenue the tax would bring in, “we could do a lot.”
The Mayor said the City will conduct an informational campaign in the weeks leading up to the election. It’ll be aimed at educating voters on the cost of park improvements, possible projects that would be funded with the revenue and other things they need to know.