Times of budget stress call for creative thinking about raising revenue
Meridian has reached the proverbial fork in the road, and it's time for some deep-down soul searching on what this city can become.
Of all the issues due for exploration during the upcoming municipal elections, The Meridian Star believes the most important is "vision."
Falling sales tax collections and decreased population will have long term implications. Hopes are the economy will rebound and sales tax collections will increase before the city faces the full shock of a budget shortfall. The truth is the city would be hard-pressed to capture hundreds of thousands of dollars from any source except through severe cuts in the budget, or raising taxes. Surely, a tax increase in this election year is unthinkable.
It is an over simplification but, generally, officials face two choices to cure budget shortfalls cut spending or raise revenue. Cutting spending translates into "do less." Where would you cut? Personnel? Would we accept fewer police officers or firefighters? Repair fewer roads? Fire half the employees in city government and simply do without the services their jobs provide?
Some limited savings may be achieved, but cutting spending is not the entire solution.
Before there is a headlong rush into a round of budget cuts that can only raise new fears and uncertainty, other proposals for raising revenue deserve serious consideration.
And, one of them should be a new strategy for tapping more deeply into Mississippi's $6 billion tourism industry.
Meridian and Lauderdale County could benefit from stronger tourism. Perhaps more advantage should be taken of an emerging segment of the tourism business known as "cultural tourism."
Cultural tourism would emphasize creation of a proposed African American heritage trail marked by landmarks with real life connections and clear identification of roads to get visitors there. Inclusion of other historic sites would only add to the appeal.
For example, before officials rename a street in deference to political expediency, they should devise a workable program binding civil rights, African-American contributions to Meridian's social and business scenes, and cultural heritage to an overall strategy to attract visitors.
The city should not rename a street just because it is highly traveled and runs across town. To rename 29th Avenue for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be little more than an empty gesture. The city should work with the African-American community to find real connections, a reason to rename a street, a reason to create a historic district that honors individual courage and accomplishment.
Connecting with the past can help build Meridian's future, but it's not likely to happen by mere chance. What's needed is a strong commitment to demonstrate the appeal of the city's cultural and historical heritage, and the new revenue it could generate.