City to ask for hotel occupancy tax

Collection would be up to $5 a night

BILOXI

Councilman David Fayard said he hopes the city won’t need it, but the Council voted to ask for permission to collect a hotel occupancy tax of up to $5 a night.

The resolution didn’t specify how the city would use the revenue if the tax is enacted.

The vote was 6-0 with Councilwoman Lucy Denton absent from the special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The request now goes to the state Legislature, whose regular session is set to end in early April.

“I think this is a pretty good thing for us to have in our back pocket,” said Councilman Tom Wall.

Unlike the 2-percent restaurant tax collected in Ocean Springs and proposed in D’Iberville, he said this won’t tax Biloxi residents since they don’t stay in local hotels.

Mayor A.J. Holloway said he wasn’t for or against the tax.

“I think this is just going through the back door,” he said, to call a public meeting with an hour’s notice and not talk to the hotel association first.

Linda Hornsby, director of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, rushed in from a meeting she was at with the casino hotel operators when she learned about the proposed tax.

“Their jaws dropped when I left the meeting and told them why,” she said.

“Did the idea just come up this morning?” she asked.

Council President Bill Stallworth said the Council decided it was time to ask the Legislature for approval before Friday’s deadline. He said this tax is something the Council has to consider when faced with reducing employees’ pay and benefits or cutting city services.

The council rejected Hornsby’s request for a referendum, but may have to put it on the ballot.

Former state Rep. Jim Simpson Jr., who for years chaired the Local and Private Committee that will hear Biloxi’s request, said as a practice these type of votes are subject to a referendum.

“The entire time I was chairman we never, ever allowed one of these to come out without a referendum,” he said.

He didn’t know whether a hotel tax would be allowed without 60 percent of voters’ approval.

Those staying at Biloxi hotels currently pay a 7 percent sales tax and a 5 percent tax supports the operation of the Mississippi Coast Convention and Visitors’ Bureau and the debt repayment for the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center.

Hornsby said adding 5 cents more would give Biloxi the highest room tax in Mississippi.

Richard Forester, director of the CVB, said the occupancy tax is like waving a red flag at a bull to meeting planners. It won’t hurt the individual consumer, he said, but it will severely damage the meeting industry.

By MARY PEREZ – meperez@sunherald.com
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