County forgives taxes on abandoned Vicksburg Chemical site|[3/22/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Warren County officials jumped through legal hoops Tuesday to forgive unpaid taxes and clear the way for a redevelopment project on former industrial land in south Vicksburg.

Friday is the expected closing date for a Colorado firm to take ownership of the former Vicksburg Chemical tract where a golf course, shopping center and residential area are planned.

Previously, members of the county governing board said they had no authority to write off past-due taxes on the 480-acre site that had accumulated since the chemical plant closed and went into bankruptcy.

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A unanimously OK’d four-page resolution, however, clears more than $218,490 in uncollected property taxes for 2004.

Written by board attorney Paul Winfield, the resolution cites a state statute that allows the board to go back one year to void an assessed tax value.

Trudy Fisher, legal counsel for Harcros Chemical, appeared before the board Monday, requesting the board act in advance of a drop-dead date of Friday for closing the deal to get clear title to the property.

Supervisors originally planned to consult with Mississippi State Tax Commission officials until meetings fell through.

&#8220We would have preferred having this advice in writing from the tax commission, but it usually won’t take such active participation,” Winfield said later.

The board delayed action on Fisher’s request until it heard from Winfield and from Tax Assessor Richard Holland.

The assessor told supervisors that the property’s new developers, Silver Tip of Colorado, would pay three years’ worth of real property taxes in 2006 under a revised assessment based on projected values in the first year of new development. A separate state statute allows that move, Winfield said later.

Normally, as unpaid property taxes accrue, they become a lien on the title to land and no new deed of ownership can be filed until past taxes are paid.

For 4 1/2 years, from 2001 through 2005, property taxes went uncollected on the property abandoned by Vicksburg Chemical in 2002.

Taxes assessed for 2000 to 2003 were forgiven when the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York allowed the company to abandon the site to the ownership of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Part of the resolution recognized MDEQ as the legal owner of the property when it protested the assessed value in 2004, giving the board the authority to act on that request and finding the site has a &#8220negative value” and ordering a &#8220zero value” for 2004.

Fisher and other legal counsel with Harcros and Silver Tip had gone before the county periodically over the last two years to persuade them to clear the tax liability on the site so they could purchase it for redevelopment.

In December, MDEQ signed an agreement for Silver Tip, a company operated by Colorado-based developer Paul Bunge, to spend $8 million to clean up the abandoned land.

The tract includes land on both sides of Warrenton Road south of the river bridges. Most of the hilly land is wooded with only a portion on Rifle Range Road used to make a variety of chemical products starting in the 1950s. The land does include sites where waste was buried and other contaminated portions.

During its board meeting Monday, the city authorized the mayor to begin paperwork on a development agreement and a purchase and sale agreement with Silver Tip. The proposed golf course would be called Mississippi Bluffs.