The turnout wasn’t exactly monumental for the Aug. 5 special election in Petal, but 74 percent of voters approved an additional 3 percent tax at Petal restaurants that is expected to bring $750,000 in extra revenue to the city each year.
Final but unofficial results from Petal City Hall show that 457 residents voted in the election; of that, 344 voted for the measure and 113 voted against it. The tax may begin to be collected as early October, with the city receiving its first check possibly in December.
“I’m excited,” Mayor Tony Ducker said. “We were thinking 300 people were going to vote, and the final number was 457, so I’m excited about that.
“I tend to personalize things, so I felt like this is people saying they trust us with this money. That puts a lot of pressure on us, so we have to deliver now. It’s not a lot of money, but it is enough money to have a plan to where we can look and say where we’re going to be in two or three years."
The results from each of the city’s three precincts are as follows:
- Calvary Baptist Church: 211 for, 52 against
- Petal Civic Center: 51 for, 32 against
- Petal Masonic Lodge: 72 for, 32 against
The measure required a 60 percent voter approval to pass.
Under the tax increase, an individual paying a $10 tab at a Petal restaurant will pay an extra 30 cents on that bill. The funds raised from the tax will go toward the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which will allow the city to maintain that department at its current level.
That, in turn, will free up money in the city’s fund that could be used for measure such as the police department, fire department or infrastructure.
“Maybe this time next year, you’ll probably see some police pay raises and things like that, but we’re on the very front of the budget side of it, so we don’t really know (exactly when),” Ducker said. “Last year, we had a $400,000 hole (in the budget), but we think we’ll grow by a couple hundred thousand.
“And we’ve gotten some federal assistance as well that should plug that $400,000 hole, but things are going to be tight for a little bit. I would like to see some of that money rolling in first, to see how much it is to make sure that we can count on it. If we do the right things with the money, you could see it maximize our money situation in this town, and actually start taking care of some things that people are paying to take care of.”
The restaurant tax will not affect property, or ad valorem taxes; as a city entity, Petal has not raised those taxes in more than a decade. The city’s millage rate - which is a unit of monetary value equal to one-tenth of a cent that determines the amount of property taxes residents pay - will remain at 46.21 mills.
The idea of a sales tax increase at Petal restaurants has been passed around for the last several months as an option to increase much-needed revenue for other city programs and departments without having to raise property taxes or cut personnel. The proposal for the special election passed both houses of the Mississippi Legislature in March, and the Petal Board of Aldermen voted unanimously on June 28 to set the date for the referendum.
“We didn’t win the lottery; we still have to watch how we spend our money,” Ducker said. “If not, we’ll be right back in the same situations we’ve been in over the last few years.
“We do a Shop Petal First; I’d love to see something where we do an ‘Eat Petal First’ program as well. We can’t forget about our restaurants."
A similar sales tax measure was passed in Hattiesburg in early 2019, when voters overwhelmingly approved an additional 1 percent sales tax at Hub City restaurants, hotels and motels. The funds from that measure are currently going toward several Parks and Recreation Department projects around the city, including a splash pad in Palmers Crossing, an extension of the walking trail at Duncan Lake and the addition of batting cages at Vernon Dahmer Park.
“People still go to Hattiesburg, and Hattiesburg has had this tax now for years,” former Mayor Hal Marx said in a previous story. “They’ve had a 2 percent tax for about the last 20 years, and then they added another percent just a year or two ago.
“I haven’t noticed any decrease in the number of people going out to eat in Hattiesburg. So I think people are willing to do it; I don’t think people are bothered as much by it as some opponents of it make it seem.”