Ocean Springs Looks For Answers In Restaurant Tax Bond

Starting February first, your bill after dining at an Ocean Springs restaurant will be slightly higher. That's because voters, last month, approved a two percent restaurant sales tax increase to pay for bonds for public safety and recreation. City leaders say what's unclear is just how much money the new tax will generate.

Ocean Springs' financial advisor says he expects collection of the new restaurant tax will get off to a bumpy start.

"Some of them are not going to do it immediately, "said advisor Demery Grubbs. "It's not that they're trying to defy you, it's just something they hadn't done. It's something they need to learn how to do."

A special meeting on Friday helped Mayor Connie Moran and city aldermen better understand the bond process.

Mayor Moran said more information was needed on, "Who will pay the two percent tax? What is the process to coordinate with the State Tax Commission? What type of bond we should go for? How much we should borrow?"

The mayor says she was told by the State Tax Commission in the past, that the tax would generate $1 million a year. But now the city is waiting for officially updated figures. City officials say they will go through the Mississippi Development Bank, but can't say without that commission estimate how much they can afford to borrow in bonds. However, they're not waiting to start making improvement plans for public safety and recreation.

Ward four Alderman Greg Denyre said, "We're going to go in this thing with everything as a possibility. Hopefully we'll be able to achieve that, but if not, we'll have to scale back to some degree because we have a limited amount of funds that we're going to generate."

Mayor Moran says restaurant owners have questions too. That's why a meeting will be set up between them and the city.

"We're also looking at taking a bit of the money for marketing purposes, coordinating with the chamber, so we can bring more clients to the restaurants here in Ocean Springs. If they do well, we do well. So it's in our best interest to work with the restaurants in order to market what they have to offer," Mayor Moran said.

The mayor says that meeting with food service businesses hasn't been scheduled yet. When it takes place, the State Tax Commission will be there to explain which food service businesses will be subject to the higher tax.

A spokesperson for the State Tax Commission was at Friday's meeting and said festivals and Ocean Springs based caterers would be subject to the tax.