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Car dealers’ taxes cut in half

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Two Vicksburg car dealerships at the heart of property tax talk among Warren County supervisors last week modified their numbers Monday — in time to cut county taxes by at least half in each case.

Atwood Chevrolet, whose application for a tax break based on renovations at the North Frontage Road location in 2012 was taken under advisement last week, was granted an exemption based on calculations by the county’s contract appraiser for real property, Wes Kight, that valued the makeover at $807,910. It translates to a county tax bill for 2014 of $4,911.69, a cut of about 54 percent compared to what the dealership paid last year.

George Carr Buick Cadillac GMC Inc., approved last week for abated taxes on improvements made in 2013 initially valued at $890,303, amended its application after Kight also re-appraised that property. The new value was cut by more than half, to $431,800. It translates to a county tax bill for this year of $2,625.13, or 63.5 percent less than what the South Frontage Road dealership paid last year.

Votes on each proposal were 3-2. Board President Bill Lauderdale, though an important swing vote in approving the measures, reiterated his call last week for the board to examine its policy on property tax abatements, traditionally used within the city’s historic district but extended to include the two car dealerships.

“I would hope the board would agree to talk about this at the next informal meeting,” Lauderdale said, adding the county would be “shooting itself in the foot” to relax its policy on property tax abatements, one that had stuck previously to areas inside the Vicksburg’s downtown-centered historic district.

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon joined District 2 Supervisor William Banks in voting no on both applications. Banks had voted no last week on Carr’s first application.

“What is the advantage of giving a tax abatement if there’s not jobs increase,” Selmon asked at one point before the vote, directing the question to “whoever wanted to answer it.”

State law allows cities to discount respective taxes, except school taxes, up to seven years once a city board approves such a request. It specifies central business districts, historic preservation districts, business improvement districts, urban renewal districts redevelopment districts and historic landmarks as areas where such exemptions may take place. Cities are given the latitude to define each as it sees fit.

Generally, those requests in Vicksburg have come from bed-and-breakfasts, startup businesses and other establishments near downtown. City officials approved the car dealers’ applications last year with little debate despite each being located outside the historic zone. North Ward Aldermen Michael Mayfield said last week the number of requests for tax abatements in the city has increased, prompting a change in policy on the issue.

Tax abatements approved for Atwood and Carr are effective for six years, according to language in each application. The board tied itself in knots trying to figure out whether Atwood’s should be through 2019 or 2020, since the arrival of Atwood’s application for a county tax break wasn’t confirmed by the Tax Assessor’s Office until this past spring — more than a year after Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen signed off on the company’s request to have its city taxes abated.

At one point, District 1 Supervisor John Arnold counted out on his fingers the seven years specified in each company’s application. After 15 minutes of confusion, the board decided to make Atwood’s valid through 2019 and Carr’s effective through 2020.

Kight said his visits to each dealership last week resulted from recent past policy and study of the law and county ordinances.

“The first time I was going to use what they turned in (last week),” he said. “The second time, I just went and reappraised it.”

District 5 Supervisor Richard George advised not to take into account the city’s actions from one request to the next and stick exclusively to the county ordinance, which emphasizes historic properties.

“When all else fails, we need to follow our own directives, regardless of whether anyone else has or not,” he said.

In May, the board granted an improvement-related exemption to Cooper Lighting, based on $388,429.12 in new equipment purchased in 2013. A similar application from Cameron Inc. based on $2.3 million in new equipment the oil fabrication yard bought last year, remains under advisement over concerns the company hadn’t consulted enough with the Tax Assessor’s Office.