Harrison County supervisors debate tax breaks for industry

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The issue of granting tax exemptions for industry sparked some lively debate once again at Monday's Harrison County supervisors meeting.

Dupont Delisle recently spent $53 million on plant improvements and asked the board for a tax break that amounts to $250,000 a year. There were strong arguments on both sides of this controversial issue.

This isn't the first time supervisors have debated tax exemptions for industry. But in the end, a divided board voted 3 to 2 to allow the tax breaks for Dupont's plant improvements. But not before some spirited discussion.

"This exemption you're talking about here, tax dollars wise, is going to be about $250,000 annually," Development Commission Director Bill Hessell told the board.

"Each year?" asked Supervisor Marlin Ladner.

"Each year, $250,000," Hessell replied.

"The investment included upgrading the facility with equipment. And that's what they're asking for," Chancery Clerk John McAdams explained.

"But they've been upgrading every five years. Every five or ten years they come in and upgrade just enough to get that tax exemption for another five to ten years," replied Supervisor Connie Rockco.

Dupont Delisle spend more than $50 million on recent improvements and was requesting a tax exemption on $36 million of that investment. But Supervisor Marlin Ladner argued the county is basically facing a financial crisis, which could worsen if the economy doesn't improve.

"This board is not going to have enough rainy day funds and then to maintain even what we have, we're going to have to start thinking about raising millage. And I'm not going to do that with millions of dollars out there in tax exemptions," said Supervisor Ladner.

"If they're not improving and if they're not being competitive, and they're not upgrading, then obviously the competition will walk over them and pass 'em up and they'll go out of business," said Hessell.

Dupont Delisle Spokesman Duane Wilson says the upgrade is necessary to maintain employment: 500 permanent jobs and 450 contract positions.

"Make us more competitive, against an emerging particularly Asian market. That's the main thing. To keep our plant updated and to have those improvements," he said.

"The fact that 95 percent of your employees are Mississippians is fabulous, when you sit right on the Louisiana line. And I think that's great too. So for all those employees and everything else that comes back in our county, I do feel this request is not out of line," said Supervisor Windy Swetman.

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