Hernando voters reject 1% tax earmarked for parks, recreation

By , Special to The Daily Memphian Updated: November 09, 2022 12:53 AM CT | Published: November 09, 2022 12:50 AM CT

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Hernando residents rejected a 1% tax on prepared food Tuesday night where the proceeds would have benefitted the city park system.

Unofficial results show the referendum lost with 58.16% against the tax, or 2,430 ballots for, and 1,748 against the new tax. The figures include absentee ballots. It marked the second time in eight years Hernando residents rejected the assessment.

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The tax would have imposed a 1-cent-per-dollar tax on prepared foods at places like restaurants and grocery delis. City officials had planned to pull the trigger on a $13.7 million parks improvement project if the tax was passed.

The final tabulations arrived at the courthouse about 11:30 p.m., and Mayor Chip Johnson did not respond to a call.

However, Ward 4 Alderman Chad Wicker wrote on Facebook: “That is unfortunate, but we will look at other options to make piecemeal improvements.”

DeSoto voters also decided two county school board races.

Michele Henley, a business owner and former teacher, will return to the District 2 seat for a second term. Henley received 60.6% of the vote, or 4,323 ballots, while librarian April Wright received 38.7% or 2,764 ballots.

“The one thing that helped me was my record,” Henley said. “I can stand on the things I’ve accomplished my first term.”

In District 1, medical device company vice president Josh Sullivan won 54.4% of votes cast, or 3,718, while software company account manager James “Eric” Wright received 44.9%, or 3,067 votes. Milton Nichols, former Olive Branch mayor, did not run for reelection. He held the seat for 12 years.

Sullivan said he felt the messages that worked for him were “managing our growth and being fiscally responsible and making sure we do the things that allow our teachers to be able to do the things they need to do without worrying about social issues.”

In Hernando, the new sales tax would have been mandated only for the city’s parks and recreational amenities. Officials believed the tax would raise $800,000 to $1 million annually, allowing them to issue bonds for improvements.

The plans included eight new baseball/softball fields with parking and lighting, soccer complex lighting and Milton Kuykendall Field improvements.

Hernando to vote on 1% tax for parks

Supporters alternately dubbed the proposed tax and the plan to improve city recreation as “Pennies for Parks” and “Coins 4 Kids.”

City officials lost a similar referendum in 2014. That was for a 2-cent tax to improve the parks system.

The mayor said he thought the previous tax didn’t pass because of sparse details on what the levy would give residents. Thus, he instigated a campaign to promote the 1% tax this time around, and business leaders also supported the effort.

Russell Jordan, 42, remembered the 2014 attempt.

“Hernando’s parks are way behind,” Jordan said. “Now is a good opportunity to catch up.”

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The debate as to whether any tax should be levied inside the city seemed to fire up voters. Opposition was not as loud but was visible Tuesday.

A red-and-white sign outside the Gale Center apparently added the existing sales tax with the proposed tax for prepared food.

“Vote no,” it said, “10% is too much.”

Jordan was 61st in line at the Gale Center. He waited as cars parallel parked along the whole block, bumper to bumper. He’d been at Gale earlier in the day.

He’d left without voting. In hindsight, he said that had been a mistake.

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“Lines were on the steps then,” he said, standing out of sight of the entrance after sunset. “I said, ‘the line’s so long. I’ll come back.’ I’m regretting it now.”

The lines weren’t just a result of the work crowd arriving. A bailiff who was in eyeglasses and refused to give his name reported the polling place being “slammed since 7 o’clock this morning. We’ve had people wrapping around the building.”

At Hernando Hills Elementary, poll workers were given 500 ballots at the beginning of the day, poll worker Billy Simco said. They had to send for more.

By 4:30 p.m., 775 people had voted, and the line was out the outer door.

“This is a pretty good testament to the power of community, to be involved one way or another,” Simco said.

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Voter turnout remained low, however, with 27.5% of 124,590 voters casting a ballot. The percentage included absentee ballots.

Vicki and Joe Sutton are regular voters and wanted to make an impact that reflects their values.

“We voted against the tax,” Joe Sutton said at Hernando Hills.

“With the economy,” his wife said, “we don’t think now is the time.”


Hernando tax on prepared foods parks and recreation Michele Henley Josh Sullivan
Toni Lepeska

Toni Lepeska

Toni Lepeska is a freelance reporter for The Daily Memphian. The 34-year veteran of newspaper journalism is an award-winning essayist and covers a diversity of topics, always seeking to reveal the human story behind the news. Toni, who grew up in Cayce, Mississippi, is a graduate of the University of Mississippi. To learn more, visit tonilepeska.com


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