Two see county taxes cut after protest|[08/21/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Warren County supervisors agreed Monday to reduce assigned property tax values for the owners of two of five properties who filed written protests of assessments.

Accepting the recommendation of Tax Assessor Richard Holland, values were lowered for River Hill Investments LLC, principal owner of the former ParkView Regional Medical Center on Grove Street, and a residence belonging to Marlin E. Ellis at 310 Warren St.

The old hospital, sold to the Brandon-based group in 2005 from River Region’s then-parent company, Triad, had its value lowered from more than $2 million to $855,020.

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On it and the other four properties, Holland and Deputy Tax Assessor Jim Agent compared them with similarly-sized parcels in their respective areas.

For the old hospital, it proved difficult.

&#8220It’s hard to find anything comparable there,” Agent said later.

More than $40,000 in taxes is owed on the property by its owners, who have declined to talk about any plan for its future use.

On Ellis’ property, Holland said the value was lowered by $11,000 to $122,320, accounting for &#8220other homes on Warren Street.”

One objection, made by Columbia Properties Vicksburg LLC, the local subsidiary of Horizon Casino’s Kentucky-based parent group Columbia Sussex, was withdrawn.

The company had requested tax relief for its nine properties in Vicksburg, worth more than $20 million. A portion of it includes land sold by the City of Vicksburg to Harrah’s in 1992, then conveyed to Columbia-Sussex when it purchased Harrah’s Vicksburg casino in 2003.

Supervisors declined to change two other assigned valuations. They were by River City Corporation, owners of the Hampton Inn and Suites on Clay Street, and Emile Properties Inc. a local holding of the Ridgeland-based parent company of Covenant Health & Rehab of Vicksburg on Porters Chapel Road.

The hotel is valued at $5.8 million and the rehab center at about $2.8 million. In both cases, Holland found his office’s calculations to show fair values to both.

Also approved by supervisors was a $12,533 assessed value to property on Court Street owned by Atwood Chevrolet and adjustments to 32 other residential properties.

Monday’s actions end the objection process, the only avenue taxpayers have to question how much the assessor decides their property is worth, The higher the value, the higher the taxes.

An issue is that state law requires assessments be completed, reviewed and that a protest period follow – but there is no required notice to property owners. Unless owners check at the courthouse, they don’t know if their valuations have changed until after the protest period closes and tax bills arrive in December.

Some Mississippi assessors and boards of supervisors do mail notices any time there is a change and notices are required in many states. Legislation to require notices has been filed several years in the Mississippi Legislature, but has never made it out of committee.

This year, total Warren County land values soared past $3 billion, according to Holland’s office in annual calculations done in June. Holland, a Democrat, faces re-election in November against independent candidate Pat Ring.

Another issue getting attention Monday was county land use, one likely to generate buzz among voters in November.

District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders implored the board to hold a &#8220preliminary public meeting” on maps proposed by Central Mississippi Planning and Development District in March as part of an $85,000 study to adopt comprehensive plans for county infrastructure.

Other supervisors have said that matter will not be taken up until after election day.

Flanders, up for a second term against former supervisor Bill Lauderdale and Republican C.L. &#8220Buddy” Hardy, has pushed other supervisors for an up-or-down decision on the maps and chided fellow board members for putting it off, saying &#8220the public needs to see how we have spent their money.”

In the initial maps, much of the sparsely populated southern end of Flanders’ southwestern district is suggested for agricultural use. However, officials with CMPDD have said zones can be created to accommodate a business within an area mostly residential. Also, businesses within a residential zone destroyed by a fire or natural disaster must be rebuilt to its original purpose.

Most of Warren County’s projected population growth by 2030 is from the city limits southeast to Mississippi 27.

That area is mostly in District 5, where incumbent Richard George faces four opponents.

Flanders sparred with George and District 2 Supervisor William Banks on the value of having public discussion of the matter, with George saying the upcoming visit to a seminar hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections dealing with building a new jail is the more important next step in enacting a comprehensive plan.

&#8220It’s a major fact-finding effort that will affect this community for the next 40 or 50 years,” George said.

Sheriff Martin Pace, District 1 Supervisor David McDonald and County Administrator John Smith will travel to the Colorado Springs, Colo., conference Aug. 29-31.

While previously patient with the idea of enacting CMPDD’s full recommendations, George on Monday likened it to the solid waste management plan administered by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

&#8220We were more or less forced with that. It’s an honorable idea but an expensive idea,” George said.