When Hattiesburg voters overwhelmingly approved a 1 percent sales tax increase at Hub City restaurants, hotels and motels in April 2019, officials expected that additional revenue to generate at least $2.4 million per year, to be split between the City of Hattiesburg and the University of Southern Mississippi.
So far, the tax has paid off even better than initially thought, with the city’s portion coming in at a total of $2.34 million since the tax was instituted in June 2019. That figure – which has been used to fund several Parks and Recreation Department projects throughout the city – was announced April 3 in a two-year report issued by officials.
“We’re doing better than expected, even with the three down months we had because of the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “When we were forecasting what we thought 1 percent would bring in, we tried to be conservative about it, and that was a prudent thing to do, given what happened last year.
“We look forward to finishing work on the projects we pledged to complete when we first passed it.”
The first revenues from the additional 1 percent tax were reported in August 2019, as each month’s receipts show the economic activity that occurred two months prior. The tax brought in $581,253 in 2019 and $1.292 million in 2020; so far in 2021, it has netted $468,969.
Initial projections expected the tax to generate about $100,000 a month for the city and another $100,000 for renovations at Reed Green Coliseum on the Southern Miss campus, but through the first four months of the tax, the measure generated an average of $117,000 per month.
Parks and Recreation projects that have been completed with the tax are as follows:
•The Thames Elementary School gymnasium in October 2019. The gym floor was refinished, bleachers were constructed, and a volleyball and pickleball court system was installed. The total cost of the project was $40,022, with $5,000 in grant funding coming from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
•The 9thStreet ball park drainage and lighting improvements in March 2020. Storm water drainage was repaired, and drainage, grading and lights for the fields were replaced. The total cost of the project was $81,484.
•The East 8thStreet basketball, tennis and pickleball courts in August 2020. The new courts were constructed, and perimeter fencing and lights were included. The total cost of the project was $70,272, with $5,000 in grant funding coming from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
•Lighting on Gordons Creek and the Jaycee Park trail in December 2020. A pathway was lighted between the High Street bridge to Hutchinson Avenue. The total project cost was $17,410.
•Vernon Dahmer Park batting cages in January 2021. Two covered batting cages were constructed at the park. The total project cost was $49,500.
•Tatum Park tennis complex improvements in October 2020 and February 2021. Lighting and all wind screens were replaced. The project cost was $80,000 for the lighting and $49,900 for the wind screens. Grant funding was $3,500 from the Mississippi Tennis Association and $5,000 from the United States Tennis Association.
•The Duncan Lake trail extension in May 2021. The project included the construction of an 8-foot wide concrete pathway that connects the trail at Duncan Lake throughout the sand hill area and out to Alcorn Avenue. Also included was an archway from the Alcorn Avenue entrance to the trail. The total project cost was $330,000 for the trail and $24,900 for the archway; $120,000 in grant funding came from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
“You can drive by East 8thStreet, behind Ebenezer Baptist Church, any day of the week in the evenings and see people using that basketball court,” Barker said. “I expect that we will see that kind of usage in everything that we work on.
“We’ve had several grants come along to help us make the most of every local dollar, like the Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks grant to match 1-cent money to build the Duncan Lake extension. That’s one example of how we really tried to leverage every dollar and get as much value out of it as possible.”
Projects currently in progress include a splash pad at Dewitt Sullivan Park scheduled for completion in May 2021 at a cost of $225,000, repairs to the Kamper Park playground scheduled for completion in September 2021 at a cost of $15,500, and ongoing repairs at the Hattiesburg Public Arts Center scheduled for completion in June 2022 at a cost thus far of $220,000.
Two more projects are slated to begin in the future: improvements at the Tatum soccer fields in fall 2021 at an anticipated cost of $400,000, and improvements to Friendship Park in summer 2022 at an anticipated cost of $225,000. Other projects slated for funding include a Miracle League inclusion field for children with special needs, a park space for the midtown area known as Midtown Green, the softball field at Hattiesburg High, an amphitheater at Chain Park, and an additional blueway access point on the Leaf River.
“I’m excited to see the splash pad completed; I think that’s going to be a big asset to the park and to Palmer’s Crossing,” Barker said. “We’ve enjoyed a good partnership with (Forrest) County, particularly District 4 Supervisor Rod Woullard, and that’s only going to enhance the quality of life and opportunities for families to use that park going forward.
“Of course, we continue to watch revenues every month, and we hope we can continue breaking ground and making more announcements as the next year goes by.”
The tax will sunset, or expire, in June 2022 unless Hattiesburg City Council and the Mississippi Legislature move to extend it through local and private legislation, a direct referendum or a reverse referendum.
“This fall, we’ll have conversations about next steps of whether we will go after an extension or not,” Barker said. “We don’t want this to continue as something with no accountability and no mechanism with which to sunset the tax, if that’s what voters ultimately want.”
For a full breakdown of funding from the sales tax by month, visit www.yourpennyatwork.com.