Golding’s plans hinge on fate of tax abatements

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Construction of a new riverside home for Golding Barge Line — said two weeks ago to be starting soon — and an expansion of high-paying jobs might not happen at all if the company can’t rely on a property tax break once it’s done, the longtime Vicksburg industry’s officials said this week.

First announced in 2012, the company’s expansion involves building a two- to four-story office on the banks of the Mississippi River at the foot of Lee Street and adding 40 more jobs by next July. Much of the expansion is courtesy of a boom in shipping petroleum extracted from underground via fracking.

With Warren County mulling the future of its property tax abatement program, the company’s father-and-son leadership team told county supervisors some kind of break might make or break the company’s future in Vicksburg.

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“This abatement would be critical in our decision-making as to where the office is placed,” said Austin Golding, the company’s marketing, sales and customer service manager, as the county board met on Monday. Golding and his father, company president Steve Golding, had requested face time before the board on the issue.

The county is considering scrapping and rewriting its policy on tax abatements after grudgingly following the city’s OK on two for car dealerships on North Frontage Road, outside the downtown historic preservation zone that had been deemed more worthy of the program for years despite the state law’s wide-ranging eligibility guidelines.

No formal application for an abatement or an industrial improvement tax exemption for Golding’s new base has been filed to date with Vicksburg or Warren County. Prosperity in the industry can’t survive a high tax bill if there’s no incentive program left to help them, said company president Steve Golding.

“We are the largest home-owned business in Warren County,” he said, pleading at one point, “Wrap your arms around us, guys.”

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. Counties can follow cities or write their own guidelines. In Vicksburg, they’re good for seven years.

Passed in 2005, the county’s abatement program is also 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.

Supervisors heard public comments July 21 from tour home operators and other business interests that were against scrapping the program altogether.

While drawing comparisons to the local business climate to that of Paducah, Ky., which the Goldings said have embraced the industry’s presence and history, they conceded the marine industry’s growth since the Great Recession can be measured in traffic on the nation’s inland waterways and, thus, doesn’t have a visible “manufacturing base” and that the planned headquarters won’t store a lot of equipment at first. Inventories held by businesses in Mississippi are taxed as personal property.

“We could have built higher above the railroad tracks and saved money,” Austin Golding said. “But, to us, it’s important for us and our customers to be seen.”

Supervisors, all of whom were among the first to hear about the expansion from the Goldings in 2012 during a similar informal meeting, were on Monday equally as satisfied to steer the company to the industrial exemption option. Those have been granted in the past to large industries such as Golding and are good for 10 years, but more often have applied to companies with significant equipment purchases that go on the personal property rolls.

“I’d go sit down with Wes Kight,” District 1 Supervisor John Arnold told the Goldings, referring to the county’s contract real property appraiser. “I don’t know if the exemption route isn’t better.”

Board President Bill Lauderdale said the company should explore industrial expansion incentives with the state.

The company began in 1985 and moved its offices to Lee Street from North Frontage Road in 2010. Four modular buildings have served as the company’s base since company officials returned to the river after the 2011 flood forced them to higher ground temporarily. Plans call for the new office to sit 14 feet off the ground to comply with flood zone construction regulations.