The intention was to jump start the facilities so the parks department and the volunteers could host tournaments, which will in turn bring revenue to Hernando. Hernando needs a lot of improvements in its parks facilities to meet the demand of people, and to keep pace with our neighboring cities, but building out Renasant Park is a long-term item that needs careful consideration that a three-year tax will not fund.
3. This will hurt the restaurants and People will pass Hernando to eat in Southaven or Senatobia
According to City of Southaven public records, over 30 restaurants have opened, zero have closed, and three are listed as inactive in Southaven since December 1, 2011, when Southavens Penny tax went into effect. Over half of them are locally-owned restaurants.
If people drive by Hernando to eat somewhere else, theyll be paying the tax elsewhere. Would you rather those people help to build our neighboring cities parks or our parks in Hernando? Here is a partial list of cities in North Mississippi that have a tourism tax, such as the one proposed. Next time you visit these towns take a look at their facilities: Batesville, Columbus, Corinth, New Albany, Oxford, Southaven, Starkville, and Tupelo. Our neighbor to the south, Senatobia, just instituted the exact amount Hernando is proposing on July 1, 2014.
The tax is for PREPARED FOOD ONLY. It will show up on your bill when you eat out in Hernando. It wont show up on the restaurants bill when they buy ingredients to prepare your meal. You will be paying the tax, NOT the restaurant.
4. People cant afford to pay two percent more.
According to the US Census Bureau, Hernandos median household income in 2012 was $59,632 compared to the Mississippi average of $37,095. That ranks in the top five in the state. Southaven (which has a median income of $51,632) is building eight baseball fields, five soccer fields, five indoor tennis courts, a water spray park and a skate park at Snowden Grove, a Senior Citizen Building, and upgrading Snowden Grove Amphitheater with the proceeds from its Penny tax, according to the resolution passed on April 1, 2014. It certainly seems the citizens of Southaven could afford the extra tax they voted in.
The Pennies tax in Southaven successfully increased revenue for the town and has provided the city with the ability to build the aforementioned facilities debt free. The facilities will enhance long-term revenue from sports tournaments, and give them an even better parks system. By the way, it is estimated that 62 percent of the revenue from the Southaven penny tax was generated from families that came from outside of Southaven to play in tournaments there.
5. Why dont we just fund with private dollars? Why dont we volunteer?
A lot of private dollars have been raised in Hernando to support parks already. The Hernando Parks and Recreation Foundation is a not-for-profit that raises funds for Hernando Parks and Recreation exclusively. This group has worked hard to raise money and have had success with fundraisers such as Christmas in Hernando in which the Germantown Symphony was featured. The event raised a few thousand dollars which was utilized by Hernando Soccer Association, Friends of Hernando Baseball, and other umbrella organizations and donated to city parks capital improvements projects.
People have volunteered, and will continue to volunteer, but to hold tournaments at this point with the current staff limitations, many more volunteers are needed.
6. City leaders are doing a terrible job and will misappropriate this money or there is no plan.
Our city has about $8 million in debt, which is only about 30 percent of what it is legally allowed to carry. Thats equivalent to a person being approved by his bank for a $100,000 mortgage, but buying a $30,000 house, and carrying no other automobile, credit card or other personal debt. In other words, our city is in a very healthy financial position on the liability side of the balance sheet. The problem is the income statement is suffering from lack of revenue.
The funds from this tax are required to be segregated into a separate account and the account will be audited by Williams, Pitts, and Beard CPA. If one penny of that money is not spent on what Senate Bill 2964 designated the funds for, the alderman and the mayor are personally liable.
Also, did you know that our millage rate per $1,000 is the second lowest in the county? Only Walls, where each household pays $23.00 is lower than Hernandos of $31.75. Horn Lake and Southavens are $42.00 and $43.73 respectively. The fact is; our taxes could be much higher!
Mayor Johnson and the Board of Aldermen have expressed that this is a pay as you collect revenue item. Once the funds are collected, the city will follow law by submitting bids and paying for the projects, without debt. The city couldnt borrow against the funds received from the tax anyway because the tax expires in 2017 which is too short of a time frame to borrow against.
I agree that democracy is by the people and for the people, and I am perplexed that the very people that are against current leadership are telling the same leadership to give us a plan, when the leaders have said publicly you can be involved in the plan!
7. Hernando Parks and Recreation Department is not doing a good job
Our parks department has a full time staff of 7 and one temporary employee. The department mows 130 acres of grass with a maintenance staff of 3; some of that grass includes cemeteries. The department does not have the capacity on its staff to hold tournaments which will grow the revenue for their budget. There have been several suggestions that the current budget is more than enough to operate on or we should have nice facilities and pristine grass with that budget. These comments are being made without basis or study of the city budget, and without any knowledge of what it takes to build a great parks system. Do you know that your HPR department operates 28 programs at a cost of $1.13 per week, per household in Hernando? Thats correct; it costs each household $58.76 per year in taxes to have a parks system in Hernando! I am embarrassed for people that criticize others in public about a subject they know nothing about. It does make one question their motiveshellip;
Hernando Parks and Recreation generates a significant portion of its budget through user fees, and some have suggested raising them. But, doing so causes participation to decline, either totally or by the user going to a neighboring city to pay user fees, buy gas, eat at restaurants etc. Even if we doubled user fees in Hernando and participation remained static, the revenue generated wouldnt support the improvements that are needed in the next ten years.
Additionally, the Parks Department and others in city government have done a great job getting grants to help increase our budget for parks and recreation. Grants help, but more is needed to shape our parks and recreation future.
8. People dont know about the vote
The city followed the law and posted public notice of the vote in the DeSoto Times-Tribune on June 26th, July 1st, and July 8th, of 2014.
I have been involved with Hernando Parks and Recreation as a volunteer since 2009, specifically helping grow the soccer program. I have met with city leaders over lunch and talked to them on the phone several times. I have attended several of the City Council meetings, asked questions at those meetings, and have even debated with them about how to improve Hernando as it faces obvious growth when I-269 is complete. The October 2011 Hernando Parks Citizens Survey Results, conducted for the city by The University of Mississippi Park and Recreation Management Program, indicated that citizens would be willing to pay for improvements to parks through a bond issue or a small tax increase.
The citizens who went to the city and state leaders to request a vote, did so after spending hours of time volunteering, studying city budgets, talking with city leaders, and raising private funds for facilities, only to realize that it would take much more to meet the demand for improvements and amenities in our Parks Department that the citizens were voicing opinions about in public. We believe it will take private and public dollars to do that, so here we are, as a city, with the opportunity to democratically choose to increase our revenue to improve our Parks in Hernando.
Blindly casting aspersions or complaining without facts about your city and its leaders or employees, especially to others in a public forum like Facebook, is divisive. For instance, people have been critical of the recent police car purchase and the cost of it. I called an alderman and asked him to provide details of the purchase and why it was done. The cost/benefit analysis, according to the city, indicated the savings of leasing new Ford Explorers for five years was greater than the current trend of constantly repairing the used Ford Crown Victorias that were purchased from the Missouri Highway Patrol. When have you engaged your city leaders, attended a city council meeting, or actually attended the annual Hernando City Council Budget hearing? If you will go to City Council meetings (the schedule is posted on the city website as is the agenda for each meeting) you might find out that our leaders are doing a pretty good job given our low tax base.
Hernando grew about 116 percent from 2000 to 2012. Hernando has done a superb job balancing the explosive growth while maintaining its small town charm. Through solid leadership, our fair city has managed to keep the commercial district conducive to business growth and protect the integrity and tradition of the historic district. Sport tournament tourism is the single best way to boost revenue while not imposing any compromise to our small town charm. Families come into our city, stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and then go home. Parks and Recreation is a pretty good place to start building a future that we all can continue to be proud of for Hernando.
Lastly, I want to encourage each of you reading this letter to get involved in your city. Public and private sectors working together will make any community great. Do your research and if you find issues are unexplained, ask your leaders about them and hold them accountable. It will take more than a 2-percent increase in your entertainment budget to improve our parks and recreation facilities in Hernando. It also takes people working together and encouraging each other instead of criticizing without substantiation or fact. Dont complain because the baseball fields dont drain water fast enough to fit your weekend schedule or that there are mole burrows in the soccer fields. Get a shovel, and ask Hernando Parks amp; Recreation department how you can help.
(Scott Sartor is an active volunteer for the Friends of Hernando Soccer and a Board of Directors member for the Hernando Parks and Recreation Foundation Board.)
Hernando Taxes are Lower http:///www.desotocounty.com/index.php/econ_dev/taxes
Mississippi Cities with a Restaurant/Hotel/Tourism Tax http://www.dor.ms.gov/taxareas/sales.SpecialTourismTax.html
City Data http://www.city-data.com/city/Hernando-Mississippi.html
Senate Bill 2964 http://legiscan.com/MS/text/SB2964/2014
Southavens plans for Pennies money (Page 39) http://southaven.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/479