Ocean Springs Dining Tax Could Go Before Voters

McElroy's On The Bayou opened in Ocean Springs two years before Katrina hit. Despite flood waters, a collapsed bridge, and ongoing construction, the restaurant is still going strong.

"We've been fortunate," said owner Mickey McElroy. "We're packed, and business has been extremely good."

Mickey McElroy says a two percent tax on bar and restaurant tabs won't severely impact his business. But he says it's wrong, for restaurants and bars to be targeted by the tax.

"I feel if it's for the citizenry of Ocean Springs, then those are the people that ought to be taxed," McElroy said. "It wouldn't be a two percent tax necessarily. It would be considerably less, but it would be spread over more people."

"If we could do it across-the-board legally, we would. But the legislature will not allow that," said Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran.

Mayor Moran worked the phones Thursday night, urging lawmakers to support the measure to allow voters to decide whether to impose the tax. She says the city desperately needs to upgrade parks, pay for new ball fields, and build a public safety complex.

"I'm very excited about it," Moran said. "As you know, Ocean Springs has not built a new park in 30 years. The voters defeated a referendum for a property tax increase in order to do so, but I think this will be a lot more agreeable to the voters."

With more than 50 restaurants and bars in the city, the mayor says the 2% dining tax will raise about $1 million a year. That tax would end when all the projects are completed and the bonds are paid off.

Mickey McElroy thinks the city should find other ways to raise the needed funds.

"I'm extremely in favor of parks and recreation," said McElroy. "But nobody's in favor of taxes, especially extra taxes."

The mayor says the park and public safety improvements will cost about $23.5 million dollars. She is confident the governor will sign the bill, and her goal is to hold the referendum on the tax in November. It needs at least 60 percent of the vote to pass.