Sales tax concerns: Meridian

MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - State and local leaders are getting back to business for the new year, and money matters are leading the list of priorities. A day after presiding over the first meeting of the new year for the Meridian City Council, the board's president is heading to the state capitol. Dr. George Thomas will join other elected officials from around Mississippi to hear this year's projections from the state's economic council. With sales tax revenue down locally, Thomas says good news is needed.

"We're down by approximately $150,000 for the first quarter of this financial year," says Thomas. "Last year we were down over $300,000."

This has led to reductions for each department in the City of Meridian. Plus, the city has basically halted all major equipment purchases, and let go of a number of part-time employees.

City council members say the solution to the problem is simple, and that is more money! That's why Thomas and other council members will return to Jackson next week, where they will join other members of the Mississippi Municipal League to lobby legislators for a bigger share of sales tax revenue.

"Right now we get 18.5% of all of the sales tax that is collected," says Ward 5 Councilman Weston Lindemann. "That's what comes back to the city, and we think that's not fair."

"One half of our general fund budget comes from sales tax," says Thomas. "With the Municipal Association, we've been trying for years and years to get it back to 20%. Right now we get 18.5% of the sales tax collected within the city."

"It's only fair," says Lindemann. "If most of the forces driving the initial sale that is taxed take place on a local basis, we think the dollars should come back to the cities, at least 25%."

While in Jackson local leaders also plan to push for a change that could lead to a sales tax requirement for online sales. Plus, they're going to monitor an effort to pass something called a "use tax."

"A use tax is if you order something online and pick it up at a local store," says Thomas. "a use tax would be put into that, which would be very similar to a sales tax."

Although a newcomer to politics, Lindemann says he's hopeful that the push to give municipalities a bigger piece of sales tax revenues will work.

"There was a bill that was sponsored in the senate last year that gained a little bit of traction," says Lindemann. "I've talked to lawmakers locally and regionally and there's a bit of support for this. I think we've got a lot of different people pushing for this. So, hopefully we can make something happen."

As mentioned, a dip in sales tax revenue has led to some personnel changes within the City of Meridian. Here are the employee reduction numbers since October 2016 when the new fiscal year started:

1. In all, 42 part-time employees have been lost, and 17 full-time.

2. The highest number of losses were in the Parks and Recreation Department.

These numbers include terminations, resignations and changes that were made to manage the budget.