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Mississippi House passes bill to let Natchez increase hotel tax
from Staff Reports - NEWS
March 15, 2018 -

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – The Mississippi House passed a bill Wednesday to let Natchez increase taxes on hotel guests to generate more revenues to promote tourism and enhance city parks and recreation.

House Bill 1668 now goes to the Mississippi Senate for consideration.

At the request of the Natchez Board of Aldermen, the legislation was filed to allow an additional 1.5 percent lodging tax, which must be approved by Natchez voters before being imposed. It would be on top of the city’s current levy: a 3 percent sales tax on motels, hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns plus a $2-a-day “heads-on-beds” tax on the guests.

The House of Representatives passed the bill on a 93-14 vote.

If the bill passes the Legislature and is approved by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Natchez referendum would be held in which 60 percent of those voting would have to favor the tax increase for it to be implemented.

In addition to the current hotel tax, the city also imposes a 1.5 percent tax on restaurants and bars to generate funds to promote tourism and pay off debts from building the convention center. The taxes in total generated about $1.7 million in fiscal 2017, according to the state Department of Revenue. An additional 1.5 percent hotel tax would generate about $256,000 a year, according to estimates provided to aldermen.

The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday agreed to move forward on refinancing bond debts owed for building the Natchez Convention Center. The board has been told it can restructure the debts and save about $200,000.

The convention center opened in 2002 with a construction cost of about $10 million. The city still owes about $7 million that must be paid in increments by 2024, according to city officials.

Paul Benoist, a Natchez attorney, has criticized how city leaders have managed the convention center debt payments. He points to the large amount still owed nearly 20 years after the bond loan was initiated.

Benoist has asked Mayor Darryl Grennell and aldermen to provide a detailed accounting of the city’s tourism taxes going back to 2006 and “come clean where the money is going.”

Grennell said Tuesday he’ll try to fulfill Benoist’s request. “I don’t have a problem with transparency,” the mayor said.

As the board continues to repay what it borrowed for the convention center’s construction, the 16-year-old building needs various repairs and upgrades. Grennell has said he’ll get a list of the convention center’s structural needs and figure the costs for possibly borrowing more money.

There has been a push in recent years to expand the center so it can attract more conventions, but the board has declined to move that forward. | © 2014 | All Rights Reserved
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