April 11, 2018 10:13:57 AM
In the aftermath of the failed effort to extend Lowndes County's 2-percent restaurant tax, the question that is most prominent now is, "Now, what?"
Few question the merits of the tax. The money, roughly $2 million annually, provides almost all of the funding for the Columbus Lowndes Convention & Visitors Bureau, $250,000 of which is earmarked for economic development projects pursued by the Golden Triangle Development LINK. The most recent bill also provided money for renovations/repairs at Propst Park, funding for festivals and money for the completion of the Terry Brown Amphitheater.
The one thing that we find almost universal agreement on is that the restaurant tax must be re-instated in some form or fashion.
It is what that might look like that is most concerning.
Although the city council has yet to take up the matter, Mayor Robert Smith has had informal talks with Rep. Jeff Smith about a restaurant tax that would be collected only on prepared food in the city limits whose sales exceed $325,000 annually.
That $325,000 "floor" was the main point of contention in the failed effort to extend the current tax, which expires on June 30. Both the county supervisors and city council had agreed to remove that floor and require all restaurants/business to collect the tax on food sales. Now, the city seems to be willing to compromise on that point while the county does not yet appear ready to make that concession.
We are curious why the only real resistance to removing the floor remains among our legislative delegation and why their opinion matters more than that of our supervisors, councilmen, CVB members and the majority of the general public.
While a city-only tax devoted to tourism and recreation might indeed be better than nothing, we strongly believe the plan that would be of the most benefit to all citizens of Lowndes County would be a continuation of a county-wide tax.
We believe that our community is at its best when the county and city work collaboratively and that when either chooses to go their own path it creates division and resentment. No one benefits from that.
There is no evidence that county residents are any less supportive of our tourism efforts than city residents. If there are divisions on this, it is among the officials who do our citizens' bidding.
Those differences of opinions among our leaders should and must be discussed and debated. Most important, they should be resolved.
Our citizens should expect no less.
We urge our supervisors, councilmen, legislators and other stakeholders to commit to working as one to find a path forward on this very important issue.
Going it alone should be a last resort, not a first option.