Mayors to Lobby Hard

Mississippi mayors are looking for help from the state legislature on several issues it says are vital.

Meridian hosted the Mississippi Municipal League's Summit today at Union Station.

One issue that has been at or near the top for years is the optional sales tax. If approved, it would allow for a public vote on imposing up to a one percent sales tax designated for specific projects.

"We're getting a tremendous amount of support and effort from the major cities," said Mayor Eddie Favre of Bay St. Louis, who is chairman of the Mississippi Municipal League. "Individual mayors, councilmen and others that we have not had in the past. And I think the legislature realizes this year we're not going away. We're here. Don't tell us to go away. We're here to stay and until we get the issue resolved. It's important to the cities."

Favre said cities must have some other way to pay for citizen services besides property taxes.

Supporters of the local option sales tax say it's the most fair, because it's paid by all users of goods and services. Opponents say it hurts the poor because it increases the price of goods and services, some of them necessities.

If local communities ever do vote on a local tax in Mississippi, it would have to get 60% approval to pass. The legislature has not been receptive in the past, but Favre says he expects a different attitude this year in Jackson.

The summit also identified homeland security as a crucial issue because of the cost.

Meridian's John Robert Smith said cities are reimbursed for things like additional security measures when the threat level is raised, but he points out the nation has not been at "green" since before Sept. 11, 2001. Paying overtime to employees has been a part of that and has not been compensated, Smith said.

Whether it's a large metropolitan city like Jackson or a city of roughly 40,000 like Meridian, mayors say the problems are similar and teaming up may be the only way to get the attention of state officials.