Levee Commission votes for second straight tax hike

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A second straight tax increase is in the making for property owners along the mainline Mississippi River levee in northwest Warren County — all in the name of acquiring land necessary to continue repairs after last year’s record-breaking floods, levee officials said Monday.

The Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners voted unanimously to hike ad valorem taxes .26 of a mill for flood protection in the district’s six-county area. In Warren County, the increase affects about 500 properties in levee-protected areas west of the Eagle Lake community.

It translates into a jump of $2.60 in taxes for a property valued at $100,000. Currently, $1.63 million, or 86 percent, of the board’s $1.89 million comes from local property taxes. With the proposed increase, 87.2 percent, or $1.79 million, would come from property taxes.

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Last year, the board raised taxes by .24 of a mill to pay for two new trackers, a skid-steer loader and to replenish about $400,000 spent from the board’s $2 million reserve. Separate meetings convene July 25 to consider funding requests from Warren County’s seven departments under supervisors’ purview, departments run by elected officials, state agencies subsidized by the county and other entities.

No one attended a public hearing Monday convened by the board in Greenville to gather comments, said chief engineer Peter Nimrod.

Berms and relief wells are in place where sand boils and slides were repaired after the record flood, which reached 57.1 feet at the Vicksburg gauge.

Heat and drought have dried up the river this summer, by comparison. The river was 4.61 feet at Vicksburg this morning, up three-tenths of a foot from Monday.

What’s left to shore up in the next year or so requires extra land, which prompted the need for extra tax revenue, Nimrod said.

“The levee board needs to acquire right-of-way for the problem areas,” he said.

Two sections of the mainline levee will be raised 4 to 5 feet by late 2013, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One is a 2.7-mile stretch south of Lake Albemarle that includes hard-hit Chotard Landing Resort; the other is a 4.7-mile section north of the lake. A series of relief wells and earthen berms are in place near the lake and at Buck Chute, at the system’s vulnerable southernmost tip west of Eagle Lake.

Jerry Johnson, owner of Chotard Landing Resort, where last year’s flood forced camps to be rebuilt and rules on mobile homes changed, doesn’t mind the slightly higher hit from levee taxes, but wondered about the levee board’s long-term plans with any additional taxes tied to the 2011 flood.

“It’s not a big increase,” Johnson said. “But, where’s the stopping point?”

Levee board officials said the added tax money also will pay for supplies, which have increased in cost since the flood. The Greenville-based district maintains 163 miles of mainline levee that stretches from Buck Chute north to Bolivar County.