BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County supervisors granted tax exemptions Monday to two new restaurants in Biloxi and four properties in the Rue Magnolia area downtown. They also re-kindled the debate over the necessity of post-Katrina tax incentives, designed to spur new development.
Construction is already underway on "The Reef" restaurant located on the beach in Biloxi. Owner Rob Stinson told supervisors he appreciates the tax exemption on a project he believes will provide a family friendly addition.
"And this is really a family driven operation. You know, I'm not trying to take anything away from what else is on the beach, but we're going to be the only one that's really family affordable. And I think because of that, our base will be bigger," Stinson told supervisors.
Another family-friendly restaurant also received a similar exemption from county property taxes. Sal & Mookie's will be built on Lameuse Street, just north of the Biloxi Town Green.
"Sal & Mookies will generate over 100 employees as well. They'll have seating for almost 275 people with meeting room area," said Supervisor Windy Swetman.
While supervisors granted the tax breaks to the two new restaurants with very little debate, there was quite a lot of discussion before granting tax breaks to four downtown Biloxi properties owned and improved by a group called Rue Vieux Enterprises.
Supervisor Swetman says the renovation of four properties in the Rue Magnolia area certainly meets the "spirit" of what the tax incentive program seeks to achieve.
"As we come back and we beautify and we build back our downtowns, this obviously is going to create more synergy for more businesses," he told his fellow board members.
The board president expressed reservations.
"Do they meet the qualifications that are required as stated in the ordinance for the economic development district?" asked Marlin Ladner.
"You need to do it as long as it needs to be done, as long as it's necessary. Until our area is vital again. And, it's not. Not yet," said Debbie Collins, with the Rue Vieux Enterprise group.
In the end, supervisors approved the tax breaks for the downtown properties, with Supervisor Ladner voting against. All the tax exemptions granted were for taxes on the improvement only, not the property. Owners must also pay all school taxes.