An integral part of Vicksburg

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 15, 2014

For the almost 30 years I have been in Vicksburg, my colleagues and I in the B&B and Historic Attractions industry have worked tirelessly to promote tourism and showcase our history in Vicksburg.

We all have actively served on the many boards and in organizations to help foster growth and industry in this area.

Tourism has suffered over the last several years due to Hurricane Katrina, gas prices, the economy and even some people that are against any mention of the Civil War and antebellum history.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

While use of our historic properties has decreased, the cost of operation has not decrease due in part to an ever-increasing local government bureaucracy.

We have pleaded for help in the form of tax relief and special consideration for public attractions. The standard answer from the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Alderman has been, “That is not our job.”

They instructed us to go talk to the Warren County Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors standard answer has been, “That’s not our job. Go to the state legislature.”

Ultimately, we were able to work with the legislature to pass a bill that would have effectively lowered taxes if the historic property met certain requirements. We were very pleased until the tax assessor and Board of Supervisors immediately raised the tax values of historic properties, in some cases 100 percent in one year, thereby wiping out any tax relief given to us by the legislature.

Historic properties in Vicksburg are one of the main reasons for tourism second only to the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Tourism traditionally has been the number one industry in Warren County. Without the draw of historic properties, tourism could be negatively affected, impacting jobs and the already-fragile economy. Tax credits for rehabilitation of historic properties are available from the federal government. This is a very effective incentive to investors. However, there is no local incentive. Quite the contrary, local property taxes are immediately and exceedingly raised on any historic property that has been rehabbed based on the cost of the project and building permits. This becomes a disincentive to rehabilitate a property. Have you noticed the significant number of dilapidated historic buildings around Vicksburg? This trend could be changed with a little help from those officials.

Where is the tax relief we were promised since 1992 with the passage of gaming. Why are residents so heavily taxed in this county/ Why do we have the largest per capita local government employee ratio per resident in the state of Mississippi? Why does local government keep growing while the local population declines? Why does the county government want to tear down the historic properties they own across the street from the courthouse? Why does the county board of supervisors give a tax abatement to two car dealers on I-20 and yet firmly deny two wonderful rehabilitations in the Historic District: the Aeolian and Carr Central? The answers to these questions will not be easy to find as there is a closed-door policy, particularly in county government.

Our concern is that without much-needed consideration in the form of tax relief, we will see more and more historic homes and other properties close and fall into disrepair. Therefore were are requesting help and support directly from the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, the Board of Supervisors, VCVB, the Foundation for Historic Preservation, the Vicksburg Historic Association and the Chamber/EDF.

Please help us in our efforts so that we can continue to be an integral part of Vicksburg tourism. The dollar amount of the taxes we pay is miniscule in the overall budget of the city and county, but has become an insurmountable obstacle to the historic property owners. We beg for help now.

Harry Carter Sharp is the owner of The Duff Green Mansion