parks tax

Hernando officials look over a plan for proposed park improvements. Voters on Tuesday Tuesday rejected a referendum to charge a one cent tax on prepared foods which would have been used to fund park improvements, but the results are now in question due to voting irregularities.

DeSoto County Election Commission is looking at the results of the recent Hernando “Pennies for the Park” referendum which failed on election day due to the possibility that ineligible voters may have cast ballots in that election.

The tax failed by a vote of 2,430 or 58.16% against and 1,748 for. The measure needed to garner 60 percent in order to pass.

Mayor Chip Johnson said officials received calls throughout the days from different polling places alerting to the fact that some county residents who live outside Hernando were allowed to vote on the tax, while others who had paper ballots were unable to cast a vote at all because it did not appear on their ballots. 

“It’s kind of a mess,” Johnson said. “We are hoping they can sort tour and give us guidance on what to do.”

Calls to District 4 Election Commissioner Sissie Ferguson and District 4 Commissioner David Ross were not returned.

The one cent tax would have been collected on prepared at restaurants and delis and was projected to raise between $800,000 to $1 million a year for the parks. The city had proposed spending nearly $14 million on improvements to Renasant Park and Milton Kuykendall Park with added ballfields, tennis, pickleball, and basketball courts, as well as new lighting at the soccer fields.

The tax was opposed by a group called “Don’t Buy the Tax.” It was the second time in less than 10 years that voters rejected a tax to help support the parks. A proposed 2-cent tax failed in 2014.

Johnson said the numbers raised eyebrows when the unofficial results were released. 

“Looking at pure numbers, in 2014, 1,309 voted on that issue,” Johnson said. “In 2021 when we had the mayor and aldermen race, which was huge because everything was contested, 2,700 people voted in the city. Then, when those initial results came out Tuesday night, 3,449 people voted on the tax, which doesn’t seem plausible.”

For example, Johnson said more people voted in the tax election at Bridgetown than were eligible to vote.

“And that’s just one box,” Johnson said. “There are about six boxes that had city voters in them. People kept coming forward saying, ‘yeah, I thought that was weird. I live in the county, but I got a ballot with the tax on it and I voted.’ So we don’t know.”

Johnson said he didn’t get a sense that the tax would be defeated. In fact, Johnson said the feedback he received was overwhelmingly positive.

“We had a sense of a big wave in the city of people saying it was going to pass,” Johnson said.

Johnson said it is premature to assume that the measure failed until the election commission has had a chance to look at the numbers.

“The city has a not said ‘no’ yet,” Johnson said. “And the vote has not been certified. What I do know is, any time we have irregularities at the voting box, we have to really look at that. And I feel like the election commissioners are doing that. So we don’t know. It might not be bad news. We are going to wait until Tuesday to get the results.”




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