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Lawmaker deadlock kills restaurant tax in Mississippi county

March 31, 2018

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — A northeast Mississippi county will stop collecting $2 million a year in restaurant taxes because lawmakers couldn’t agree on a renewal.

The 2 percent tax will expire June 30, since Lowndes County legislators deadlocked over expanding the tax to low-sales restaurants, Commercial Dispatch reported.

The current tax exempts businesses with less than $325,000 in yearly sales. The city of Columbus and Lowndes County supervisors asked lawmakers to remove that threshold and extend the levy for four years.

Such renewals are usually routine, but Reps. Gary Chism and Jeff Smith, both Republicans from Columbus, sought to retain the exemption, saying removing it would be a tax increase. However, Sen. Chuck Younger, also a Republican from Columbus, wanted to remove the threshold.

With local lawmakers disagreeing, legislative leaders declined to consider the measure.

Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she and an accountant have been reviewing the bureau’s budget and trying to find ways to reduce expenses.

“The decision that we make will not be pretty, but we will have a plan to survive through the end of the year,” Carpenter said.

One of the things Carpenter said the bureau will look at is trying to find a buyer for a building that it bought for $450,000 in December 2015. Monthly payments on the loan used to purchase the building are $4,943, Carpenter said.

The bureau hopes to use the building for a children’s museum. It has spent roughly $650,000 on the museum project, which includes the services of a design firm.

The bureau’s board president, Dewitt Hicks, was the city attorney and his wife was on the convention and visitors bureau board in 1986, when the tourism tax was created. He said loss of the tax will be “devastating.”

“It’s very, very sad to see it turn out like this,” he said.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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