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City plans to advertise whole county

McComb voters pass 3% tax; funds will promote tourism

McComb — Last month, the City of McComb became the 45th municipality in Mississippi to place a special tax on hotel and motel rooms.

McComb voters overwhelmingly approved a 3% tax on the city’s 582 rooms in eight motels, in addition to the regular 7% local tax. The measure officially passed 592 to 82, surpassing the 60% majority required to enact the tax. Only 7% of the 9,000-plus people on the voter rolls in the city turned out on a sultry summer day to cast a vote at the city’s nine precincts.

“We’re obviously very pleased and very enthusiastic about what’s going to happen with tourism in the future,” said McComb Mayor Tom Walman. “We’re going to set up a tourism bureau and hire a professional tourism director and we’re looking forward to getting started. It’ll be October before we ever receive any funds, and it won’t be that much to start with, but over a period of time, we’re looking for about $150,000 per year.”

The tax became effective August 1 for three years under the terms of legislation passed earlier this year allowing cities to present voters with local tax referendums. After the three-year period expires, the Mississippi Legislature must vote to make the tax permanent.

The Pike County Chamber of Commerce lobbied hard for passage of the decade-long tourism tax proposal, which will be used to promote McComb and Pike County.

“Even though it’s a McComb tax, we’ll advertise the entire county,” said Walman. “For example, there’s a mini-tour of antebellum homes in Magnolia that we hope to expand, and sites in Summit we plan to promote. In McComb, we have an Azalea Festival, the Iron Horse Festival and a lighted holiday tour trail that volunteers have handled for years. We’ll pick up these events under the auspices of the city, and I’m sure those volunteers are looking forward to giving those responsibilities to a paid person.”

Britt Herrin, executive director of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, said the tourism tax will greatly boost the county’s efforts to promote the area, which has been limited to a $2,000 annual tourism budget through the chamber’s tourism committee. (In fiscal year 2004, Pike County reported tourism expenditures of $37.7 million.)

“You can’t really do anything with $2,000,” he said. “We’re able to support the market through our Web site and send out information, but having a real strong marketing campaign has just not been possible.”

The tourism tax will also be used to promote Percy Quin State Park, which features a 27-hole golf course and attracts 80% of its visitors from out of state, and the Bogue Chitto Water Park. Percy Quin State Park reported 88,408 visitors in fiscal year 2004, down 36% from the previous year, when the state park attracted 138,248 visitors.

“If they’re coming this way, tourists always want to stop in the Dinner Bell Restaurant, which is known worldwide, and the Kellwood outlet, of course,” said Herrin, who quickly added, “We don’t have a laundry list for anyone, we just need to get the word out.”

Last year, McComb lost a 55-team tournament because the city couldn’t accommodate the event. The city is now in the process of constructing a sports complex, which should open next summer. The recreation department is already taking reservations, said mayor.

“Because the July referendum called it a tax for tourism and economic development purposes, we could probably use some of those funds to improve the sports park to help attract new folks in town,” he said. “It’s all about creating revenue and jobs.”

Karen Stockman, general manager of McComb Hawthorn Inns and Suites, said she was pleased the referendum passed “as long as they use it to promote tourism for Pike County.”
“I’m being assured a committee will oversee the money,” she said.

On Stockman’s tourism fund wish list: a convention center. She recently donated $500 for a feasibility study for a multi-purpose complex in McComb.

Walman said the city is not involved with the private ad-hoc group promoting the feasibility study.

“Our community college has many meeting rooms, and the hospital has a huge meeting area they let civic groups use. Percy Quin has a convention hall with small hotel, so there are areas available already,” Walman pointed out. “We’re not large enough for a convention center — we’re only 14,000 people — but there probably is a need for some sort of multi-purpose building.”

Located 110 miles from New Orleans, 97 miles from Baton Rouge, La., and 130 miles from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, McComb represents a strategic location to attract tourists.

“Especially because of its location, Pike County has a lot of tourism potential, and generating this new tourism tax to give the community a basis of money to help promote their area is a good thing,” said Craig Ray, tourism director for the Mississippi Development Authority. “It will help pull their community together and get them started on the right path to a stronger presence in the tourism industry.”

Room Gross Tax Revenues for Fiscal Year 2004

Aberdeen (1%) $11,713

Batesville (3%) 119,522

Bay Springs (3%) 5,093

Canton (2%)71,517

Cleveland (2%) 69,975

Clinton (2%)69,017

Coahoma County (2%) 76,055

Columbus-Lowndes (2%) 180,068

Corinth (2%) 48,267

DeSoto County (2%) 509,130

Greenwood (1%) 43,504

Grenada (2%) 101,841

Hancock County (2%) 154,090

Harrison County (3%) 4,517,352

Hattiesburg (2%) 349,529

Hernando (1%) 7,327

Holly Springs (2%) 32,055

Indianola (2%) 29,976

Jackson (1%) 588,966

Kosciusko (2%) 23,037

Lauderdale County (2.5%) 415,787

Laurel (2%) 35,289

Magee (1%) 12,421

Montgomery County (2%)19,576

Moss Point (3%) 182,178

Natchez (3%) 288,743

New Albany (2%) 31,330

Newton ($1/room) 15,434

Ocean Springs (2%)29,930

Oxford (2%) 127,564

Philadelphia (3%) 83,846

Picayune (2%) 29,170

Rankin County (2%) 319,744

Ridgeland (1%) 163,163

Southaven (1%) 94,162

Starkville (2%) 79,313

Stone County (2%) 16,625

Tishomingo County (2%) 13,717

Tunica County (3%) 788,995

Tupelo (2%) 302,318

Vicksburg (3%) 529,821

Washington County (1%) 72,359

West Point (1%) 194,743

Yazoo County (2%) 30,920

Total: $10.8 million, representing 30% of the gross total special tax revenue of $35.4 million collected in FY04. SOURCE: Mississippi State Tax Commission

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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