Claiborne residents sue Grand Gulf, claim discrimination

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 3, 2009

Saying that a state law exempting Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station from paying property taxes to county authorities amounts to racial discrimination, a group of black Claiborne County residents has sued to stop enforcement of the statute and is seeking money damages.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Claiborne County Circuit Court, accuses the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors, the Mississippi Tax Commission and state Attorney General Jim Hood of violating the civil rights of 15 plaintiffs by carrying out the law, which provides for Grand Gulf to be taxed directly by the Tax Commission. The commission, in turn, sends portions of the levies back to the counties and cities that the $3 billion nuclear facility serves — including Claiborne, where it is located.

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“The Mississippi Legislature enacted and the Mississippi State Tax Commission implemented (the law) for the racially discriminatory purpose of preventing a majority black county board of supervisors to assess ad valorem taxes on a power plant as the board deemed proper,” says the plaintiffs’ complaint.

According to the law, Grand Gulf must pay the commission a tax equal to 2 percent of its assessed value. The payment cannot be less than $20 million, and Claiborne County is entitled to an annual distribution of at least $3.04 million from the amount collected from Grand Gulf. It also gets a portion of an additional total divided between all the counties and cities the plant serves.

In fiscal year 2008, Claiborne received $7,847,184.95 from the Grand Gulf payments, Tax Commission records show. The money accounts for most of the county’s budget. The next-highest recipient was the city of Jackson, which has roughly 10 times as many people as Claiborne but received only $1,635,133.54.

Still, the plaintiffs say, the method by which Grand Gulf pays taxes is unfair because other Claiborne County property owners face a “91.17 percent tax levy” that forces them to pay “45.6 times…what (Grand Gulf pays) at 2 percent to use the same services, roads, law enforcement protection, emergency planning and operation, etc.”

However, 91.17 is Claiborne County’s millage rate, not its property tax rate. On homestead property, parcels are assessed at 10 percent of their true value. On all other property, including commercial, agricultural and rental, it is assessed at 15 percent. Tax bills result from multiplying the figures derived through those calculations by the millage rate, with one mill equal to 1/1,000 of a dollar.

Though the plaintiffs did not specify the amount of damages they are seeking, a statement issued by plaintiff Emma R. Doss said the lawsuit is “in the amount of $435 million.”

The complaint does not disclose whether the plaintiffs — Doss, Clarence E. Scutter, Henry Lee Claiborne, Gloria Edwards, Robert Edwards, Margie H. January, Mary Walls, Beatrice B. Mathis, Arthur Lee Camphor, Eddie Duffin, Helen Duffin, Sadie Appleton, J. Gilbert Buck, Mildred L. Holland and Elmo McBride Jr.— are represented by a lawyer.

None of the plaintiffs returned calls for comment. A state Tax Commission spokeswoman said that the commission had not been served with notice of the lawsuit, but she did not respond to follow-up questions. Hood’s office did not respond to calls for comment.

Doss said in a news release that the plaintiffs would serve Claiborne County supervisors with notice of the lawsuit Tuesday, when the county board convenes at 10 a.m. for their first monthly meeting at the William “Matt” Ross Administration Building, 510 Market St., Port Gibson.