BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi leaders said the Harrison County Tax Assessor is assigning property values in a way that's inconsistent and with no oversight. Officials said they asked Tal Flurry why since Katrina his office dropped the value of dozens of buildings to zero. Biloxi leaders said they will not sit back and accept Flurry's response.
White Pillars and the White House Hotel. Similar names but in the years since Katrina the buildings have had a very different tax history. From 2006 to 2011, the Harrison County Tax Assessors office valued the hotel between $66,509 and $77,334. While in those same years, appraised the restaurant building to be zero.
To see a list of properties and their assigned values, visit: http://bit.ly/19NFjhB
Biloxi leaders said they asked Tax Assessor Tal Flurry why.
"We received inconsistent answers. The one most prominent was that that building was no longer a revenue producing building therefore it was dropped to zero," said Jerry Creel, Biloxi Community Development Director.
Biloxi leaders said they don't accept the argument that the buildings are not being taxed since the owners are not making money since the White House and White Pillars have both been closed for decades and yet only one building is valued at zero. Also records show Shemper Seafood was in business during 2006 and 2011 and its building was also valued at zero during those years.
Creel said city officials pointed this out to Flurry. "Ultimately, we were reminded that he is the absolute authority on the assessed value of any land and any structures and that no one has the right to question him about the values that he assesses to these properties."
Biloxi has no way to try to collect past taxes on zero value properties like Casino Magic. The city is planning to file appeals before the Harrison County Board of Supervisors for the 2013 tax rolls.
"We have an opportunity to file an objection and there will be a hearing," said Attorney David Wheeler. "The city has the right to state what the city believes the value of the improvements on the property or the structure should be and at a hearing we present what we believe to be the value."
"It amazes me that in the day and age that we live in that any public official has this level of unsupervised authority to arbitrarily go in and drop certain structure values to zero with no oversight, no questions, no documents in the file, nothing," Creel said. "Just make the change. And Biloxi suffers for it because revenues we could have used since Katrina were denied."
City officials said that denied tax revenue is in the millions. WLOX has obtained records of zero value properties in the years since 2005. Those values are listed as "improvements."
Biloxi also takes issue with some tax exemptions.
"The Biloxi Yacht Club pays no building taxes, no land taxes. If there's some type of tax exempt status, we're not aware of it," said Creel. "We can't seem to figure out how it could be a tax exempt status."
WLOX left numerous messages for Harrison County Tax Assessor Tal Flurry but received no response. Biloxi must file individual appeals for each property and must do so before August 12th for the cases to be heard by the board of supervisors.