Mayor: Gulfport councilwman, state senator ‘conspired to kill’ food/beverage tax bill

A bill designed to give Mississippi tourism more money is alive in Jackson, the state capitol.
A bill designed to give Mississippi tourism more money is alive in Jackson, the state capitol.
Updated: Mar. 29, 2019 at 5:13 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes released a statement after House Bill 1745 died in the Mississippi Senate on Thursday, believing Coast politicians are to blame.

“Gulfport’s Councilwoman for Ward 3 and State Senator from District 48 conspired to kill the opportunity for Gulfport residents to have a choice as to whether or not to have a natatorium and soccer complex in their city," Hewes said.

HB 1745, which was passed by the House, would have authorized the City of Gulfport to levy an additional tax on food and beverage sales to help fund the promotion of tourism and parks and recreation in the city.

“Councilwoman Holmes-Hines has long been opposed to developments in her Ward, using fearmongering and speculation to kill multiple projects – including those that would curtail flooding," Hewes said. "She is the principal reason there has been little progress made in that segment of the city in the last two decades. If not for the leadership of Supervisor Kent Jones and Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, there would be few, if any improvements, there. Contrary to reports, there are a number of sites under consideration outside of the one identified. Sen. Dawkins knew this, but chose to kill new recreational options for children and seniors in our community.

“House Bill 1745 passed the house with no debate. However, the 2019 legislative session adjourned, today, so there is no chance to bring the measure back up in the Senate for consideration.”

According to City Councilman R. Lee Flowers, road improvements were also part of this project. He previously told WLOX News Now that if the tax would have passed, the city planned to increase access to the existing Sportsplex and expand Creosote Road from the Gulfport Premium Outlets to Canal Road. For now it’s back to the drawing board.

“We’ve got a year to put together the plan that addresses the concerns that were raised this time and also draws the clear picture of what we’re trying to do,” Flowers said. “If we just talk about ball fields, that may not be the best way to present this when it’s not ball fields that’s going to be the chunk of the money.”

Councilwoman Ella Holmes-Hines spoke to WLOX News now and said she opposed the tax increase because of flooding issues in her ward and that the funding for a new sports complex shouldn’t be a burden of the taxpayer.

“I hope that they will understand that if you’re going to be a great representative, if you’re going to care about the people who are hurting, we must address the problems firs. This church is hurting, Forest Heights is hurting, North Gulfport is hurting. Turkey Creek is hurting, and we must address the problems first. It’s easy when you’re high and dry not to care about those who are in floodwaters, waters that they didn’t commit to. This is storm water runoff from the interstate, from hotels, and it has to stop,” she said.

Sen. Deborah Dawkins told WLOX News Now that she received many letters against the proposed tax and only one in support of a new sports complex. She also said the Restaurant Beverage Association Board did not support the proposed tax as the board felt it singled out the restaurant industry.

The Senate on Wednesday did approve House Bill 1683. It will now head to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk for his signature. The bill means Bay St. Louis voters will determine whether the city tacks on an additional two percent to tabs at bars and restaurants.

If HB 1745 had been passed by the Mississippi legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, the tax would have still needed to be approved by Gulfport residents in a referendum vote.

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