County not receptive to altering tax district|[12/9/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 9, 2005

Warren County’s ordinance governing property tax abatements in historic and business districts is not likely to change, even if Vicksburg amends its own ordinance on the topic, supervisors agreed Thursday.

When the Warren County Board of Supervisors met informally Thursday, an e-mail from City Attorney Nancy Thomas was circulated that said the city was considering adding new residential construction to its abatement ordinance.

Both local governments have new ordinances to encourage redevelopment and offer tax breaks for commercial investment.

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Today, the city ordinance waives property taxes on the value of improvements to privately owned new commercial structures and any improved structures that promote business, commerce or industry in historic and central business districts for a period of years. Schools are not waived.

In the e-mail, Thomas referred to an attorney general’s opinion she said was obtained by the city that stated residences promote commerce, industry and business in an area.

Any change in the city ordinance would have to be approved by the city board, likewise for the county board.

Supervisors did not warm to the notion of amending their ordinance to include new residential structures, agreeing it would adversely affect the county’s coffers. Most new residential construction is outside the city limits.

&#8220I think we have a good ordinance that we need to stick to and we don’t need to put residential on our ordinance,” It would kill every bit of our growth,” said District 1 Supervisor David McDonald.

The discussion was one of two items heard from Tax Assessor Richard Holland. The other was about eight parcels of commercial property on the city’s tax abatement program that had not applied for exemption from 2006 county property taxes, due June 1.

In other business, McDonald told the board no counteroffer has come from the city on the former Southern Printing building at Clay and First North streets.

An offer was made by the county to purchase the building from the city for $150,000 in a special meeting last week. The building is being considered as storage space for the state’s first allocation of touch-screen voting machines and by the E-911 Dispatch Center as a new base of operations.

Mayor Laurence Leyens has said the city will likely seek an amount closer to the assessed value, estimated at $389,000.

The first of the 91 state-allocated machines were set to arrive by the middle of this month, with the county eventually purchasing 53 more to maintain a presence of 138 machines at 22 polling stations with six spares.

Supervisors also received a letter from the city, signed by both aldermen but not Mayor Leyens, asking for $20,000 per year to help pay costs associated with TV23 televising county board meetings.

The letter asked supervisors to respond by Jan. 6.

The board agreed that they &#8220had a hard time” with the request because the city had not requested it before the county’s 2005-06 budget was adopted.

District 5 Supervisor Richard George also said the government-access channel can only be viewed by Vicksburg Video subscribers and not all county residents have cable TV.

The board asked board attorney Paul Winfield to draft a letter to the city declining.

As for the election issues, county information systems manager David Rankin told supervisors that issues still cloud the successful transition from the previous voter registration roll database and the state’s new centralized system.

Rankin met with Saber Consulting, the firm contracted by the state to provide centralized voter registration software, with the firm taking responsibility for only four or five of 24 items identified by Rankin as potential glitches.

&#8220They failed miserably to isolate a way to clear up the problems,” Rankin said.

Chief among those, Rankin said, are retrieving the county’s voter list, printing reports and securing access to the voter registration lists.

Rankin and board attorney Paul Winfield plan to continue meeting with state officials, they said.

&#8220We have two months starting in January to sort it out,” Rankin said, referring to a March 1 date for advance preparation of the database for the June 2006 elections.