By Terri Ferguson Smith
Funding will continue for Lauderdale County's Tourism Department as county officials formally moved on Monday to adopt state legislation authorizing a tourism tax.
The 2.5 percent tax levied on hotel and motel rooms in Meridian was originally passed in 1997, and reinstated in 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2011.
It will be in effect until 2017, according to a copy of the bill that passed in both houses of the Mississippi Legislature.
The legislation also reauthorizes the Lauderdale County Tourism Commission, which is made up of three appointees from the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, three from the Meridian City Council and one from the Marion Board of Aldermen.
The tax funds the salaries and activities of the Lauderdale County Tourism Department, also referred to as Visit Meridian.
The board's vote to approve continuing the tax was unanimous.
Steve Martin, assistant director of Lauderdale County Tourism, said the tax funds the work the office does to boost visitors to the county and city.
"We are glad that we can continue our marketing and our promotional effort of Lauderdale County," Martin said. "The income is derived from people who stay overnight in hotels. It's not a tax upon the citizens here."
According to the Mississippi Department of Revenue, the income generated by the tourism tax here rose by more than 13 percent between 2012 and 2013, bringing a total of a little more than $93,000 in additional revenue during that time period.
The tax is imposed on the gross proceeds excluding charges for food, telephone, laundry, beverages and similar charges, from room rental of all hotels and motels in Lauderdale County, according to a copy of the law.
The levy does not apply to gross proceeds from room rentals for day meetings where the room does not serve as overnight sleeping accommodations. Hotels and motels that have 10 or less rental units are exempt.
Also on Monday, supervisors voted to accept an easement from the city of Meridian on part of 26th Street where erosion on Robin's Creek is threatening some utility houses nearby. District 2 Supervisor Wayman Newell said the work will stabilize the bank and keep erosion from causing the structures to slide into the creek.
A $25,000 grant will help pay for the work and materials.
With the recent departure of some county employees, supervisors voted to fill their positions with interim employees on Monday.
Cheryl Polk was named interim county administrator; L.C. Moss was named interim road manager and Billy Hampton was named interim shop foreman.
Lauderdale County tourism tax revenues
May, 2014 $72,836
May, 2013 $70,422
July, 2013 - May, 2014 $777,707
July, 2012 - May, 2013 $684,610
Source: Mississippi Department of Revenue