Sardis tourism vote May 3; Batesville waiting for renewal

Published 8:38 am Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Registered voters of the Town of Sardis can cast ballots Tuesday, May 3, for or against a three percent tax to be added to regular sales tax on purchases made at restaurants and for lodging.

Commonly called the Tourism Tax, and sometimes the “Hotel and Hamburger” tax, the levy is used by several state municipalities to collect funds specifically earmarked for tourism promotion and upkeep of parks and recreational facilities.

Sardis, like Batesville, collects the extra three percent tax (above the seven percent for the State of Mississippi), each time a hotel or motel room is rented or customers pay for meals at restaurants.

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Sardis generally collects about $120,000 annually with the tax. The special levies must be approved by the State Legislature and have a life of 10 years, after which time lawmakers can grant renewal with a majority vote, providing all state elected officials votes to approve the renewals.

Last year, Rep. Brady Williamson, who represents a large portion of Batesville and a very small portion of the Town of Sardis voted against renewal for Sardis’ tourism tax and the special levy was set to “sunset” or expire at the fiscal year.

This year, on the last day of the legislative session, Senators Nicole Boyd and Robert Jackson and Rep. Latasha Jackson, pushed fellow lawmakers to pass a bill restoring the tourism tax program for Sardis. 

Rep. Williamson, who routinely votes against all tax bills, did not vote against the measure this year, leaving open the opportunity for Sardis residents to vote for the added tax. Because it had died last year, the legislation requires a special election in Sardis to be renewed.

Sardis Mayor Richard McCarty said Monday he believes the town’s residents will support the measure and is encouraging voters to mark “For The Tax” on ballots.
In both Sardis and Batesville the elected officials generally wary of voting for any new taxes are more supportive of the tourism tax because it is perceived to be a shared tax, meaning that much of the tourism funds collected comes from highway traffic that stops for lodging and meals.

Rarely do local residents rent hotel rooms, although Panola taxpayers are charged the same three percent on every restaurant order, including fast food purchases – hence the label of hamburger tax.

Sardis has used some of its tourism money for various expenses in past years, but the bulk is being saved for the Sardis Lake Project which is slowly gaining traction and will be a reality in the next 10 years, according to some town and county officials.

In Batesville, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen and the office of Panola Partnership, are anxious to see the future of the city’s tourism levy program, which is set to end next year. There have been no indications that Batesville’s tax will not be renewed by state lawmakers, including Rep. Williamson, and is not expected to require voters’ approval in a special election.

The City of Batesville currently uses much of its extra tourism tax revenue to retire the debt on the Civic Center, which will be paid in full next year. City leaders hope to use part of the tourism tax in future years to upgrade the Civic Center, build additional arts and entertainment projects for citizens, and further explore the possibility of building a major sportsplex to attract traveling softball and baseball teams, and tennis and soccer clubs, for regional tournaments.

For the May 3 vote in Sardis, the ballot reads as follows:

The Town of Sardis proposes to levy a 3% tax on the gross proceeds of hotels and motels derived from room rentals and the gross proceeds of restaurants located in the Town of Sardis; the revenue from the tax shall be for the purpose of enhancement of tourism and the provision of parks and recreation facilities as defined in Senate Bill 2998.

There are boxes labeled “For The Tax” and “Against The Tax” and a simple majority of either will carry the election.