Desoto County News

Johnson highlights benefits of “Pennies” tax in Hernando

Hernando voters to decide local private levy in November

Photo: Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson details the Pennies for the Parks benefits during the Hernando Main Street Chamber of Commerce “Grits and Government” breakfast. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson Wednesday began the public campaign to inform voters of the benefits from the Pennies for the Park levy on prepared food in the city. If voters approve, the one-percent tax would be added to the sale of any prepared food in Hernando, from gas station hot dogs to restaurant fine dining. 

The levy will come up for a vote in Hernando only on Election Day, Nov. 8 with 60 percent approval needed to move forward the program to fund parks and recreation improvements. The concept is similar to the Penny for the Parks levy used in Southaven. Horn Lake earns $2 for each night’s stay in local hotels for economic development and tourism. Olive Branch is to vote on its special hotel-motel tax levy of one percent nightly fees for park improvements in August.    

Johnson was the guest speaker at Wednesday morning’s Grits and Government breakfast put on by the Hernando Main Street Chamber of Commerce at the Hampton Inn on McIngvale Road. The mayor said the city is starting to actively work toward getting all of the information out about the “Pennies” proposal so residents know what they will be voting on in November.  

“It’s something we didn’t do as well the last time we had a vote on this,” Johnson said. “We’re going to try to get the information out, and every bit of the information, so you all know what you are voting on, so you can tell your friends what we’re voting on, and it’s all very clear.”  

Phase One Improvement Summary for Hernando. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

The majority of the plan is for improvements at Renasant Park to include baseball and softball diamonds, disc golf, tennis and pickleball courts, basketball court, and soccer field lighting. Improvements at Kuykendall Park are also part of the proposal.  

The “Pennies” plan would touch anyone who dines in Hernando, local residents and visitors, and Johnson strongly believes it is not going to mean people will quit eating at restaurants.  

“If you spend $100 at a restaurant, you would spend $101 with this tax,” Johnson explained. “It’s not a lot of money. You’re not going to notice it. I think people are still going to go out to eat.”

One item different from other local private taxes is that with the Hernando proposal the tax money would not go to the general fund but specifically goes to capital improvements within the parks program. 

“You will all know exactly what it is going to go for,” Johnson said. “It will be in a separate account, it will be accounted for to the penny.”

Another point Johnson explained is that, instead of a legislative repealer from Jackson, Hernando voters will be asked every four years whether to continue the tax, or not.  

“This is the first time this has been done in the state of Mississippi,” the mayor said. 

The mayor believes the tax would generate about $800,000 in the first year if approved. Johnson said the city could then use the money to take out a bond to cover the cost of nearly $14 million in improvements, considered Phase I of the city’s improvements plans.

Beyond the parks and recreation benefits that would come, Johnson said homeowners who don’t use the facilities will still benefit.  

“If you look at the website for the National Association of Realtors and the one for the National Parks Association, you’ll find that if you have good parks and you’re within a half-mile of a park, your house is going to sell for 8-20 percent more than other houses that don’t have parks nearby,” Johnson said. “That is a fact. Your house is worth more.”  

If approved, Johnson said the parks can be built in a 2.5 year time frame. 

“We are hearing en masse that people don’t want to wait any more,” Johnson said. “A generation of children is going to grow up without these amenities we are showing.”

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