“We want jobs! We want jobs!”
This unanimous chant can almost be heard loudly around West Point and Clay County by residents who are ready to see their town bustling again with hundreds of new jobs, hanging on to hope that someday soon their prayers of abundant job opportunities will become reality.
And with Saturday's passing of the proposed one percent tax increase on restaurants and hotels, there's even more pressure placed on the West Point/Clay County Growth Alliance and the Columbus/Lowndes Development LINK to bring new, steady jobs to West Point and Clay County.
The city election on the tourism tax increase, held Saturday at the Civic Center, resulted in 60.65 percent of voters showing their support for the tax increase. A total of 615 voters came out to the polls to cast their vote, with 60 additional West Point residents voting absentee.
West Point City Clerk Lela Jack said all votes have been tallied, but the votes won't be certified by the Municipal Election Commission until Wednesday.
With the passing of the one percent tax proposal, the additional one percent revenue collected from local restaurants and hotels will equal out to about $200,000, which West Point Mayor Scott Ross said will go towards the Growth Alliance, who will determine how the money is spent, whether it be on tourism, beautification or industry recruitment.
Jackie Edwards, president of the Growth Alliance Board of Directors, said the Growth Alliance has not yet decided what the $200,000 in tax revenue is going to go towards specifically, but the board plans to make that decision this week.
Several West Point and Clay County residents expressed their view on the tax increase and the role of the Growth Alliance.
Clay County resident Sylvester Adams said he's against any hike on sales in the city, whether it be on gasoline, hotels or restaurants.
“I don't like it,” Adams said. “We're paying enough taxes now. Food is already high enough.”
West Point and Clay County jointly pays the LINK $300,000 annually for economic development purposes aside from the additional $200,000 that will now go towards the Growth Alliance.
Resident Don Searcy said his concern is will the money actually stay in West Point and Clay County to grow the community or will the community see it's money benefiting areas outside of Clay County.
“West Point is paying a lot of money to Columbus to try to help get some jobs over here,” Searcy said. “If you're the growth man of your town and there's one over here, how is the Columbus man not going to want (industry) to come to Lowndes County instead of coming to Clay County? To me the Growth Alliance needs a person in charge who knows this area. They're bringing in people from Florida, and the one before that wasn't from around here. They don't have any roots established here.”
Searcy said the town's recent recruitment of a second Dollar General and Waffle House, which he said is too similar to the Huddle House restaurant West Point already had, isn't what the community needs.
“Why do we need to duplicate what we already have?” Searcy said. “That'd be like putting another McDonald's on the other end of town.”
Adams said he realizes that West Point and Clay County may not be able to land another industry like Bryan Foods that employed over 2,000 people but said the city and county has lots of empty buildings that can be put to use by some type of industries.
West Point resident Jerome Gil said he, too, like so many others, are crossing their fingers in hopes that in the near future, especially with more money coming into the Growth Alliance, there will be a decrease in the unemployment rate of Clay County.
“What I've seen is people coming in from out of town, but I haven't seen any results yet,” Gil said. “They're beautifying the town, and they've brought in things like Dollar General – that offers a handful of jobs maybe for younger people, but we need something that offers more because you have people with children who need higher paying jobs.”
Searcy said outside companies aren't failing to look at West Point and Clay County's tax base and will likely set up shop in areas where the tax base is a little better.
“Bottom line, people want to see how the jobs are going to be created from this tax increase,” he said. “I think everybody can absorb one percent. If it helps get jobs, I'm for it. I know it's going to take time, but over a certain period of time people are going to want to see results.”
“If it's going to better the town, I'm for it but not if it just takes care of Columbus,” Adams said.
The one percent tourism tax resolution will now go to the Department of Revenue and will take effect Oct. 30.
“I'm very please that it passed,” Ross said. “It's always tough to get 60 percent on any kind of vote. It'll give us the opportunity to do some really innovate, productive things, I believe.”