The polls in Petal will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. August 5 for the special election that will determine whether to institute an additional 3 percent sales tax at restaurants in the Friendly City.
If that measure is passed - which would require the approval of 60 percent of the voters who show up for the election - the tax will bring an estimated $750,000 in extra revenue to the city each year.
Absentee ballots are available until July 31 at Petal City Hall, 119 West 8th Avenue.
“Understand that this is a watershed moment, I believe, of what our town is going to look like in five years,” Mayor Tony Ducker said. “So I hope you go out and support it, and I hope you hold us accountable for that money spent, and every dollar spent. You’re going to see one thing on the ballot, but it really touches so many other areas.”
Voting precincts for the election are as follows:
- Masonic Lodge, 120 Cameron Street;
- Calvary Baptist Church, 1123 Mississippi 42; and
- Petal Civic Center, 712 A South Main Street.
As an example, under the proposed tax increase, an individual paying a $10 bill at a Petal restaurant would pay an extra 30 cents on that bill. The funds raised from the tax would go toward the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which would allow the city to maintain that department at its current level. That, in turn, would free up money in the city’s general fund that could be used for measures such as the police department, fire department or infrastructure.
“We could move that money over to recreation, the civic center, and senior center budgets,” Ducker said.(We could) take the money currently being spent over there and move it over to the general fund, so then you can pay police officers.
“We gave them the first half of a raise last year; we need to give them the second half of that raise so they can keep up with some of the competition that is local here in south Mississippi, and even in the Pine Belt. The fire department lost a couple of people in the last budget; we’d like to get those guys back so we can protect our Class 4 (fire) rating. Paving roads, and drainage is such an issue in parts of our town - we’ve got to have resources to do those things."
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 a cent that determines the amount of property taxes residents pay - will remain at 46.21 mills.
“I’ve fought on several occasions to lower that number, so I’m a no-go on property taxes,” Ducker said. “The problem with property taxes is, it’s the citizens inside the city limits of Petal going it alone.
“The great thing I like about the 3 percent … it will allow people from the outside to come in and assist us on things we need to purchase. It’s not kingdom-building or anything like that.”
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.
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 projects throughout 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 Petal 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.”