City of Biloxi challenges 'zero' valuations

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Questions about property values and concerns about lack of communication were addressed in a three hour tax protest hearing Tuesday, involving the City of Biloxi.

The city challenged more than a dozen property assessments, especially several that were given a "zero" value.

"We did not come here to try and embarrass anybody today. We came here to just ask some questions and make our argument based on documents that are prepared," said Biloxi Community Development Director Jerry Creel as he appeared before county supervisors on behalf of the City of Biloxi.

"We've had rhetoric that there was millions of dollars in taxes lost by the city of Biloxi. And that's simply not true," said Board Attorney Tim Holleman at the outset of the tax protest hearing.

The meeting was a bit contentious from the start. Biloxi challenged 13 parcels of property that city leaders claim were under-valued. Some of those were listed at "zero" value.

"All we've ever asked is how was this property valued at zero? All we wanted was an answer," said Creel.

"All you have to do is call my office, like any citizen that has a problem with their value, and ask us to look at it. And we'll be glad to do it," said Harrison County Tax Assessor Tal Flurry.

The three hour hearing included a review of various homes and commercial properties. One home assessed at "zero" belongs to Joseph Parker, who admits he's planning to demolish the structure. A city appraisal consultant questioned the no-value.

"There is one piece of property located on Elmer Street that looks in worse condition than that one, and was still being assessed," said appraiser Harry Hebert.

"We're not really talking about the Parker property right now. What you are talking about is the fact you feel there are a lot of properties in Biloxi that are improperly assessed," said Supervisor Kim Savant.

"If this had been only one property, we would have made a phone call to the assessor's office. The fact we went in and found as many properties as we did, to me shows some concerns," said Jerry Creel.

The old Casino Magic tower is the most prominent property in question.  It was assessed at $40 million the year before Hurricane Katrina.

"The year after Katrina, it was dropped to $9 million. And every year since, it's been at zero," said Creel.

An appraiser for the owner says "zero" is where it belongs, for now.

"They're going to try and get a casino in there, which will be a win-win for all of us. The building, as it is now, has no value," said appraiser J. Daniel Schraeder.

Supervisors rejected most all of the appeals, including upholding the "zero" value on the old Casino Magic.

Tax Assessor Tal Flurry says in that case, the lease of that property represented the real value and that went down the drain when the Margaritaville project fizzled. The owners of that vacant tower still pay taxes on the land, which is assessed at $6 million.

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