Supervisors won’t help pay for grant

Published 6:34 pm Monday, November 5, 2018

A majority of the Warren County Board of Supervisors say they are contributing to the incentives to lure economic development to the community through tax breaks that are being granted to two new industrial plants.

During their regular meeting Monday morning, Supervisor Charles Selmon made a motion for the board of supervisors to pay half of the $300,000 the city of Vicksburg paid for the local share of two Mississippi Development Authority grants.

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The state agency is giving $1 million to Vicksburg Forest Products, now occupying the former Anderson Tully sawmill site, and $2 million to commercial kitchen equipment manufacturer Unified Brands, which is located in the Ceres Industrial Park.

Last week, Mayor George Flaggs Jr., and city officials made a formal request from the supervisors to pay half of the $300,000 cost.

Selmon said the county will benefit from this because there are people in Warren County who will be employed.

“Because we are going to be a beneficiary of employment for our citizens, I think we need to split the cost with the city,” Selmon said.

Supervisor John Arnold said the county does invest in economic development through tax breaks and abatements.

“We do invest a lot of money through this exemption,” Arnold said. “A lot more than what the public knows. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars that we invest. Then, when one individual walks out and makes a promise, and expects us to back that up when it’s unlawful … our attorney, last Monday, said you cannot legally do this. So we cannot pay the city part of the money that was promised by the mayor.”

Supervisor William Banks said the county gave up tax revenue by allowing a lease agreement for Unified Brands to locate in the vacant Simpson Duravent Building in the industrial complex.

“They won’t have to pay property tax on any of the improvements,” Banks said.

Board President Richard George explained that in previous exemptions the county dealt with an offer for development that wished to be exempt from taxes.

“The key there was you were exempting taxes that you were not receiving to start with,” George said.

“This Unified Brands deal is the first time that we’ve been faced with the legality of the legislature and MDA to promote economic development declare that even though the exempted individual does not own the business, if they lease the property to the business owner, they are eligible for an exemption.”

Giving up $500,000

George said the building Unified Brands occupies was generating $34,000 a year in taxes to the county when it was vacant based upon its value.

“They have made and will continue to make significant improvements in the value and condition of that building,” George said. “So at the very least we have already prepared to give up at least half-million dollars in taxes that these taxpayers out here thought they were going to get.”

George went on to say that normally the supervisors are approached and receive a request for an incentive package from the “involved person and we deal with them and we make a decision.”

“We were elected to address the county’s financial position and the county’s opportunity to offer incentives; no one else’s,” George said. “No one else has the authority to speak for us.”

George added that Economic Development Director Pablo Diaz has “remained silent while we’ve been taking all this abuse about our inability to offer incentives.”

Banks said that Diaz informed the board when the Unified Brands project came up, that the county wouldn’t have to give up any money.

“He said the city was giving the money,” Banks said. “He didn’t say nothing about the county.”

“I look at it like this,” George said. “We know what we’ve done and followed the procedures and the laws that have been explained to us. We made the offer that we made and we stand behind it. Anybody can twist it anyway they want. When I lay down at night, I’ve got no worries about it.”

Selmon’s motion for the city’s request to pay half of the $300,000 died for lack of a second.

Flaggs: City will pay

Flaggs said he commends Selmon for “stepping up to the plate and doing what’s right.” He said the city will pay the $300,000, but he is not conceding just yet that county officials will not come around.

“What I’m ready to do is start having a discussion about whose responsibility it is for economic development,” Flaggs said. “I want to have an open discussion about whose responsibility it is and how important it is for this community. I’m confident that in the next six months to a year we will get the board of supervisors to come around.”