AMORY – An extra two percent tax for restaurant sales and hotel stays in exchange for improvements to the Amory Parks and Recreation Department will be the core of the lone ballot item of a Dec. 8 special election.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. that day for Amory’s tourism tax, and registered voters may cast ballots at the National Guard Old Armory, located at 101 9th St. S.
“We’ve talked about a need for updated athletic facilities – not just ballfields, soccer fields and concession stands. We decided that would be one of the major things we would do but we would revamp what we have,” said Mayor Brad Blalock.
Next week’s ballot will have For the Tax and Against the Tax on it. A 60 percent majority is needed in order for the measure to pass.
The ballot states if passed, the tax will be placed on every person, firm or corporation operating a motel, hotel or restaurant in Amory.
“Just like with sales tax, the owners will collect that money and submit it monthly with their sales tax,” said city clerk Jamie Morgan.
All qualified Amory voters may participate in the Dec. 8 special election. Several safety measures will be in place at the polls, including sanitizing. Voters will use a pen they’ll take with them after they vote.
“Everything is going to be spread out a little bit more,” Morgan said. “You’ll walk in the side door and unless you’re handicap and can’t access the front, you’ll walk out the front to cut down on the congestion.”
Absentee voting is currently available for registered voters at the Amory City Clerk’s office at City Hall during normal business hours. The city clerk’s office will also be open Dec. 5 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. for absentee voting.
Morgan said people who tested positive for COVID-19 and those caring for someone with COVID-19 are qualified to vote absentee. Dec. 5 is the last day to vote absentee in person at the city clerk’s office. Mailed in absentee ballots must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Dec. 7.
Curbside voting is also available.
Plans if it passes
Blalock said if passed, the tourism tax could provide for engineering for increased field sizes, new parking lots, restrooms and concession stands, for example, rather than the purchase of new property. Blalock added one consideration at Concord Fields is a lake for fishing, which would help mitigate flooding issues.
“The way we would do that is to fund a bond issue with a portion of the tourism tax. For instance, we may do a bond issue for all of the construction and designate a certain portion of the tourism tax for the bond payment per year, and the remainder of tourism tax could be used for reasons such as marketing events or creating new playgrounds or parks to promote tourism through parks and recreations.
Blalock and Morgan said it would take a while for tourism tax to fund improvements of that magnitude.
“We would collect it for a year and track it like we do with a department,” Blalock said. “We would want to track it for a year to see how much money we’re actually going to be dealing with and see the baseline. The first year is probably going to be the lowest year. We can take that and make plans and have that money grow through the years.”
He said an advisory committee will be formed if the measure passes, allowing for valid suggestions.
“For instance, if we do finance ballparks and do have a couple hundred thousand dollars left over and are trying to decide what needs to be done with that extra money, then the advisory committee can say, ‘We had a really good year with ChiliFest last year and could expand it and we’d like through park and rec or the city tourism to add a couple of bands for a concert,’” Blalock said.
It’s unknown how much funding the potential tourism tax could generate, but Blalock said the more people it could attract would generate more restaurant purchases and hotel stays.
“The more attractive we can make our community through tourism tax, the more tourism tax we’ll end up collecting,” Blalock said. “The past couple of years, girls softball tournaments have really taken off here. With baseball tournaments, we’d like to host smaller tournaments here but between Tupelo, Starkville and Oxford, which hold mega-tournaments, I don’t know if we’d ever be able to compete with those.”
He added in the past month and a half, more than 30 girls softball teams have played on Amory’s fields.
“It goes back to constructing the fields so they can be used for softball and baseball and making them large enough so that age won’t be a factor. We’d want to use temporary fencing for the younger age groups,” Blalock said. “The only place we’ve hosted men’s softball tournaments is at Carlos Moore Field, which it would also need to be upgraded for bathrooms, dugouts and concessions. That with improvements at Concord, men’s softball is another 30- to 40-team draw if we could get those.”
He added maintenance and improvement of fields has been funded through ad valorem taxes, but a tourism tax would help the city keep pace with neighboring cities with tourism taxes.
Several neighboring cities have special taxes in place, which have led to improvements in tourism and park and recreations.
“When we eat in Columbus or Tupelo, we’re paying for the same thing and don’t realize it. When people ask about why Oxford, Corinth and New Albany have nicer fields and parks, that’s why. They have those funds to promote them.
“Since Amory is such a centralized location in Monroe County, we have so many people who come here to play in our park and rec. We have a lot of people who don’t necessarily live in the city limits or pay those ad valorem taxes but they use several of our facilities. We want them to keep coming and are proud they’re doing that, but this is a fair way for everyone to contribute toward better facilities that we’ll be able to improve for years to come,” Blalock said. “Whether people realize it or not, when they eat out in Tupelo, they’re funding those Tupelo programs.”
The Mississippi Legislature passed Senate Bill 3086 during the 2019 regular session, which gives City of Amory officials authority for the tax levy to promote tourism and park and recreation improvements. The bill was authored by District 7 Sen. Hob Bryan.
The matter was formerly passed in 2014 and 2017 during state legislative sessions. In 2014, the city received enough petitions for its first alcohol referendum, and the city couldn’t hold special elections on the two issues at the same time.
“For whatever reason, it didn’t get brought up again until 2017, and we had it extended. The department of revenue called again last year about the time we were set up to have the second alcohol referendum,” Blalock said.
The legislation defines a restaurant as all places where “prepared food and beverages are sold for consumption on the premises, excluding any school, hospital, nursing home or place where a person is recovering from an operation or an injury.”
It defines hotel and motel as “establishments engaging in the business of furnishing or providing rooms intended or designated for dwelling, lodging or sleeping purposes to transient guest, where the establishment consists of six or more guest rooms.”
Proceeds from the tourism tax shall not be considered as general fund revenues by the city but solely allocated to the parks and recreation department. If the measure passes, the Amory Board of Aldermen is required to pass a resolution at least 30 days prior to the effective date of the tax.
“It’s really important for people to understand that this is not something that the board necessarily wants or doesn’t want. This is an election just like alcohol when the people get to speak on what they want or don’t want to do. It’s not going to make or break Amory. If we want nicer things, it’s going to help get us there but if it doesn’t pass, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just an opportunity for people to vote. If they don’t want it, they can vote ‘no.’ It’s not a political move; it’s just for people to have the opportunity to vote,” Blalock said.
For more information about the special election, call the city clerk’s office at 256-5721, ext. 8.