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Assessment near hospital irks Warren landowner

[08/14/01] An owner of land near U.S. 61 North was one of two who let Warren County supervisors know Monday they object to 2001 tax rolls.

Harry Sherard, who owns 17.2 acres where development has been intense in recent years, objected to “a heavy increase” in taxes on property he said he can no longer use and is trying to sell.

“Last year, we got a big surprise,” Sherard said. He said his taxes jumped from $758.33 in 1999 to $8,214 in 2000. A refund for $2,000 was issued in after an error was found, but Sherard said his taxes weren’t reduced. His property tax remained the same in 2001.

Monday was the day supervisors set to hear public objections to assessments.

Tax Assessor Richard Holland said nine property owners filed complaints over values he placed on their property and two attended the meeting. The values are used in calculating taxes due in January.

Holland said the reason for the dramatic increase for Sherard was the dramatic increase in fair market values in the area.

“In 1999, the hospital bought the land up there and property started selling for a lot more after that,” Holland said. “Values are 10 times more than what they were two years ago.”

River Region Medical Corp. purchased a vast tract on U.S. 61 northeast of the Culkin overpass in June 1999 and has a $124 million hospital complex under construction on what was undeveloped hills and hollows.

Real estate agent Jerry Beard said he has been trying to sell Sherard’s property but, because his land is so hilly, it’s hard to market. He said he was trying to sell the land for about $30,000 an acre. Valuation of the land is about $22,500 per acre, Holland said.

However, Beard said the amount of dirt needed to grade the property to make it viable to sell would be costly as well.

The Realtor said he thinks it’s wrong to raise the assessment before the land is developed.

“If you have a piece of property and may be trying to sell it, and something goes on on the property, then raise the taxes,” Beard said. “But you have someone on a fixed income paying $700 a year and it jumps to $8,000, then I don’t think that’s fair to the residents of Warren County.”

Sherard said the land in question was a successful dairy farm until the highway was built through the tract in 1957, forcing his family to move the business. He said he has been able to sell some timber on the land for about $4,000.

“That’s the only income it has produced since 1956,” Sherard said. “I’ve tried to sell it for timber but the taxes on the land are more than the land is worth.”

Tour-home owner Bill Smollen also objected, saying his Stained Glass Manor Bed and Breakfast on Drummond Street should be tax exempt as property owned by a historical society.

He said the county’s reasons for denying tax-free status, such as Smollen’s residing on the property and deriving income there, are not addressed in state law as valid reasons for refusing an exemption.

“I’ve heard a lot of arguments,” Smollen said to supervisors. “I feel you are getting opinions, discussions and arguments but aren’t doing what the law says. The tax assessor or the board attorney does not get to determine what is an historical society.”

Other tour homes and historic properties in Vicksburg are taxed. Holland said he believes Smollen’s property is also taxable because it is used as a business and the attorney general may be asked for an opinion.

Smollen said after he pays a $2,800 tax bill, his mortgage and other expenses of running the bed and breakfast, there is no profit.

“It seems like I’m trying to bring money into the city and am getting punished for it,” Smollen said.

The board took all objections under advisement and members said they would discuss them with Holland.

As they prepare their budget and tax levy in the next four weeks, supervisors are already faced with raising the levy for support of schools by 4 percent. The board has already acted to increase phone surcharges for E-911 and is considering whether other tax accounts will be raised or lowered.

In other business, supervisors:

Approved a request by Under Sheriff Jeff Riggs for $140 from the sheriff’s department’s tobacco draft to be used for Porters Chapel Academy’s anti-tobacco program.

Declared a vehicle in the sheriff’s department surplus and agreed that it can be auctioned.

Selected Trustmark National Bank for banking deposit services for county.

Approved a request for the board attorney to compose a draft to ask for state or federal funds to assist county residents with cleanup of bayous on private property.

Supervisors will meet again at 9 a.m. Monday.