Bay St. Louis voters are headed back to the polls next Tuesday, Dec. 17, to determine whether the city may levy a two percent food and beverage tax.
"We've been looking at doing some projects for awhile, some of them for many, many years, and we're doing this so we can fund them," Bay St. Louis Mayor Mike Favre said recently.
According to a legal notice from the city, the Bay St. Louis City Council "intends to levy a tax upon every person, firm or corporation operating a bar in the city, at a rate not to exceed two percent of the gross proceeds of the sales of such bar and to levy a tax upon every person, firm or corporation operating a restaurant in the city," not to exceed two percent.
The council voted unanimously in February to approve a resolution to ask the Mississippi Legislature to approve the submission of a Local/Private bill to authorize the tax. The money would be used for tourism, parks and recreation in the city. The Legislature approved the bill in its regular session this year.
The legislation mandates that if the tax is approved by 60 percent of the qualified electors in Bay St. Louis who vote in the election, the funds generated must be used only for the promotion of tourism, parks and recreation in the city. The mayor and city council will work together to administer the funds and designate projects.
In order to help inform voters a little more about the referendum, the city and the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce will host a "Community Conversations" forum this Friday, Dec. 13, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Bay St. Louis Public Library.
Speakers at the event will include Connie Moran, the former mayor of Ocean Springs; Richard Chenowith, owner of Scranton's Restaurant and The Grand Magnolia in Pascagoula; and Favre. Everyone is welcome to the event.
The city and Chamber this week issued a Fact Sheet with some answers to frequently-asked questions about the referendum, including the following:
• WHAT IS THE CITY PROPOSING TO DO?
The City is giving the citizens the opportunity to vote for or against a
proposed 2% tax on the gross sales generated from customers using the services of bars and restaurants in Bay St. Louis. This is authorized by the Legislature in House Bill 1683 passed during the 2019 Legislative Session.
• WHO PAYS THE TAX?
The 2% tax is added to the bill of customers who frequent bars and
restaurants in Bay St. Louis. Restaurants and bars in Bay St. Louis will be responsible for paying the tax to the Department of Revenue in the same manner they currently pay their 7% sales tax. For example, on a $50 bill, there would be an additional $1 tax added to the bill. It has been reported, that over 50% of business is from nonresidents (tourists) of Bay St. Louis. Therefore, over 50% of revenue generated from the tax will be from tourists.
• HOW WILL CITIZENS BENEFIT?
Citizens of all ages and backgrounds will benefit from the 2% tax. Parks will be enhanced, updated and maintained. The city will be able to improve and promote recreation which improves quality of life.
Additionally, everyone in the city benefits from increased tourism.
Tourism is far more than just hotels, golf courses, bars and restaurants. Tourism boosts our economy, employs thousands of people, enriches our businesses and pays for important public services, such as education and law enforcement. Tourism works for each of us, every day.
• HOW LONG WILL THE TAX BE IN PLACE?
The legislation will automatically repeal after July 1, 2023. The City will have to seek an extension during the 2023 legislative session if the citizens want the tax to continue.
• WHERE DO I VOTE?
The referendum will be on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. Voting precincts are as follows: Ward One: Bay High School; Ward Two: Bay St. Louis Library; Ward Three: Senior Citizen Center; Ward Four: Christ Episcopal Church; Ward Five: American Legion Post 139; Ward Six: Bay St. Louis Fire Station No. 2 on Highway 603. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. For absentee voting go to City Hall.
• HOW WILL THE CITY BUSINESSES BENEFIT FROM THIS TAX?
Tourism is the largest industry in Bay St. Louis. The 2% tax will generate revenue to market and improve city assets which will drive new customers to our local businesses year-round. All citizens and businesses within the city will benefit from the revenue generated from the tax. In Bay St. Louis, the toughest economic times for businesses within the city is after Cruisin the Coast and before Mardi Gras. These funds can be used to market the city year-round with specific empha-sis during the down season to give businesses income year-round.
• WHAT TYPE OF PROJECTS COULD THE CITY FUND?
The funds can be used to market the city through advertising, social media, website development, and special events. It can also be used to improve park facilities which will in turn attract sports competitions. Additionally, it can be used to develop and manage recreational programs to improve quality of life.