Abatements vital for growth, tour home group says

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tour home operators didn’t tamp down their tone much Monday in support of keeping property tax abatements possible on Warren County tax bills.

The property tax abatement program keeps alive “primary contributors to the Vicksburg economy,” said Harry Sharp, chair of Historic Properties of Vicksburg, during a 21-minute public hearing on plans to scrap and rewrite the county’s abatement program.

The group “strongly favors keeping the abatement program in some form” to keep redevelopment possible in downtown Vicksburg, Sharp said.

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Sharp and others dialed back criticism of using the program to stimulate other parts of the city. However, the topic was a quick segue into taxes as a whole on old homes such as Sharp’s Duff Green Mansion and other antebellum tourist attractions.

“Taxes on historic properties, we have determined, are the highest-taxed industry in the county,” Sharp said. “It’s become very difficult for us to keep our homes open. It’s quite simple — tour homes are being taxed out of business.”

County supervisors didn’t give a time frame for a decision on the program’s fate.

Abatements became a sore topic with tour home operators in June after two were approved for car dealerships, both outside the downtown-centered historic preservation district.

State law specifies central business districts, historic preservation districts, business improvement districts, urban renewal districts and historic landmarks as areas where the exemptions are legal. Cities are given the latitude to define each as they see fit.

Passed in 2005, the county’s abatement program is good for seven years on commercial properties whose owners remodel or otherwise improve their buildings and already have an abatement in hand from the city. It differs from the city’s policy in that it doesn’t include multifamily structures and says the property must have been redeveloped by demolition. It sets a minimum investment for a seven-year abatement at $300,000 and excludes, though does not define, routine maintenance.

Margaret Gilmer, general manager of Outlets at Vicksburg, told supervisors tax incentives to bring in businesses are as vital as any other government function.

“I realize that it’s important for counties and cities to have money to operate,” Gilmer said. “But, it’s very important to give incentives that other communities give.”

Board President Bill Lauderdale stopped questions at the same time Macy Whitney, co-owner of The Corners Bed & Breakfast, tried to ask a question. She pressed on.

“If you offered tax incentives for new businesses to come to Vicksburg, wouldn’t your operating income increase?” she asked.

Earlier, as Sharp commented on taxes, Lauderdale stopped him and recommended he return Aug. 4 when the board hears formal objections to values placed on land for this year’s tax bills.