The optional sales tax is an idea supported by the Mississippi Municipal League. It would give cities permission to hold elections, and let residents decide if sales taxes should go up. In Gulfport's case, an extra one penny per dollar would help pay for $123 million worth of city improvements.
The Northwood Hills North drainage project is one of 291 water, sewer, road and drainage projects that Gulfport has on its books. According to Mayor Ken Combs, "We just have a lot of needs and no money to correct them with."
So the mayor is pushing for the state to pass a law that gives cities a sales tax option. If the legislature says okay, and then voters go along with Gulfport's tax plan, the city's sales tax would go up from seven to eight percent. That would pay Gulfport an extra $12 million a year. "And we would use it for water and sewer repairs," Combs said, "and for corrections of our drainage structures and try to make a more livable environment when we get some of these heavy thunderstorms in here."
Council president Billy Hewes said the additional sales tax would "be a giant step for Gulfport in getting things done that we need to get done."
Mayor Combs said getting state lawmakers to approve the optional sales tax concept is a long shot. But he said it must be done. You see, without the extra $12 million a year in sales tax collections, the mayor said Gulfport would have no choice. "There is not but one other thing to do," the mayor said, "and that's what we're trying not to do. But that is to increase property taxes in the city of Gulfport."
The mayor and the city council are looking for ways to avoid bigger property tax bills, but still get money to repair roads, drainage and water systems. That's why they pushed for the local sales tax request. "If we don't have this," Councilman Hewes said, "we're going to have to get the money from somewhere else, probably in some sort of tax increase. But the sales tax is the fairest tax that there is."