Harrison County supervisors debate tax exemptions

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County supervisors granted tax exemptions on Monday for two new businesses in East Biloxi. That action also re-kindled an ongoing debate about the benefits of allowing such tax breaks.

"We're getting more and more and more of these," said board President Marlin Ladner. "So, if we're going to make a decision, if that's the pleasure of the board, to reduce it in some way."

The latest discussion came as supervisors agreed to grant tax breaks to Biloxi Boardwalk Marina and The Hook Up restaurant. Those new businesses qualified under a post-Katrina program that allows ad valorem tax exemptions as incentives for economic development.

"The cities are who we need to be talking to about this. They need to be clear that just because the city gives a tax exemption of whatever, doesn't mean we're necessarily going to follow suit," said Supervisor Kim Savant.

"I think it's important to create a criteria and some policy to go along with that as well, and that will help us. How many jobs are they going to create? The same type of criteria the development commission has. Before we give 100 percent," added Supervisor Connie Rockco.

"We've had several projects come to us that are well out of the ground," said board member Windy Swetman. "We need to set part of that policy that if this thing is anything past one year, they've missed the boat."

Savant said to keep in mind that often times these developers of prospective new businesses are factoring in these tax breaks when coming up with their business plan.

"I think it almost has to be on a case by case basis, and you've got to set a minimum and a maximum on what you can do. If they want to put that in their business plan, that's on them, but that doesn't mean they're going to get it," said Supervisor William Martin.

Supervisors stopped short of creating a policy for granting tax breaks. They did agree to send a letter to the city mayors, advising them that such exemptions are not guaranteed and will be considered case by case.

Most requests for such tax breaks begin in the cities. That's why supervisors chose to send a letter to the mayors, advising them of the county's position.

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