This week I asked the Mississippi Department of Revenue for an estimate of how much Columbia’s proposed 3 percent tourism tax would generate as well as a breakdown of how much comes from hotels versus restaurants. The answer: In fiscal year 2018 the tax would have generated $754,234 and 94 percent of that came from restaurants with only 6 percent from hotels.
Presumably that hotel portion will mostly be paid by out-of-towners. Most every other community where they stay already has such a tax, and it doesn’t seem to deter visitors. So it’s a good thing if people staying temporarily in Columbia help contribute to our sportsplex and parks.
But how much of the restaurant portion comes from locals versus people traveling through? Being on U.S. 98, Columbia gets a good bit of traffic passing through town, especially at its fast food restaurants. But I would guess a majority of diners live in Columbia or Marion County.
Just as a rough estimate, let’s assume 25 percent of restaurant sales are to people who live outside Marion County. Using those assumptions it comes out that the average Marion County resident (that includes both those inside and outside the Columbia city limits) would pay $21.21 in extra taxes per year as a result of the 3 percent additional sales tax.
The question becomes: Are you willing to pay that to have a youth sports complex and other upgrades to existing city parks?
Like a lot of Marion County residents, I have a personal interest in that outcome but not a vote in the May 6 referendum. I live a stone’s throw from the city limits (in the area proposed to be annexed) so I won’t be casting a ballot.
Yet the election no doubt has a big effect on the community in which I live and work. And in my case, I think the tradeoff of paying $21.21 or so more per year is worth the benefit of bringing in new people through tournaments and building a top-quality complex for youth in the community.
A sportsplex has been well received in most every South Mississippi city where they have been built, including Magee and Brookhaven. Youth sports has been slowly moving away for years from local leagues toward travel ball, which plays during weekends at sites like the proposed sportsplex in Columbia. In this baseball-mad part of the world, it makes sense for Columbia to get in on that.
And it would also have a benefit for the local leagues. Instead of having both the privately run Dean Griner and the city-operated Duckworth Park, it would be more productive to have one city-run league at a state-of-the-art complex.
I get the perspective of people who are so tired of so many different types of taxes that they flatly oppose any new ones. I don’t enjoy paying personal income tax, business tax on the property here at the newspaper even down to the furniture, car tags, sales tax on all purchases in-store and online, capital gains tax on investment income, state franchise tax on a business’s equity, payroll taxes paid by both employees and employers and the list could go on forever.
Yet my biggest problem is with income tax because it’s both the largest tax and there’s little discernible benefit to me nor accountability for how the federal government spends it.
I don’t have as much problem with taxes that go specifically toward a certain thing and produce a clear outcome. For example, this newspaper has for years sounded the alarm that Mississippi needs to raise its 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax in part because the money goes straight to fixing roads and would be paid by everyone who drives on the roads. That connects the payment of the tax with the benefit from how the proceeds are spent.
The same applies to the tourism tax in Columbia. It will go toward a specific plan that has a clear benefit to residents. It’s part of an investment in having a better community, and I think it’s a worthwhile one to make.
Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him at (601) 736-2611 or email@example.com.