Harrison County developing new policy for industry tax breaks

Whether used for an existing plant improvement or to attract new industry, tax breaks are the competitive currency of government.
Whether used for an existing plant improvement or to attract new industry, tax breaks are the competitive currency of government.

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County may soon have a new policy for granting tax exemption" to business and industry.

That issue of tax breaks has sparked some lively debate among county supervisors in recent months. But new procedures in the works could make future decisions a bit easier.

"We're granting these tax exemptions constantly. And we're struggling. And I just can't understand how we can continue to do this right now?" asked Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner during a recent debate over granting a tax exemption.

That discussion happened last week, when county supervisors considered and then voted 3-to-2 to approve a tax exemption for Dupont-Delisle for a recent plant expansion.

Whether used for an existing plant improvement or to attract new industry, tax breaks are the competitive currency of government.

"When you're dealing with large corporations that have opportunities to move overseas, we need to make sure that we are as competitive as we possibly can be here in South Mississippi," said Harrison County Supervisor Windy Swetman.

The director of the development commission told supervisors he's developing new policy and procedures for granting such tax breaks.

"It'll be kind of a point system. And as they earn points, then they earn percentage of reductions in their tax. And it will also regulate how many years they may get," Development Commission Director Bill Hessell told supervisors.

Supervisor Connie Rockco told WLOX News policies and procedures are desperately needed if we're going to be giving away taxpayer dollars. She said tax exemptions can be justified for things like creating new jobs or a major plant expansion, but she also said, left unchecked, they can turn into corporate welfare.

Director Hessell says the new policy will provide more accountability and justification for industry tax breaks.

"Trying to take all this subjectiveness out of it and get it down to a firm policy of the county," he explained.

Bill Hessell said the new policy is still in the draft stage. He will present his recommendations soon, first to the Harrison County Development Commission and then the board of supervisors.

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