Hancock Co. leaders want tax rebate incentive reform

Hancock Co. leaders want tax rebate incentive reform

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - When the 2015 legislative session reconvenes in Jackson on Tuesday it will receive a list of 20 measures leaders in Hancock County say could help improve the quality of life and economic development in the county.

At the top of that list are changes leaders would like to see made to the state's Tourism Rebate Program. The program offers an incentive to developers who locate a tourism related business in Mississippi. However, the incentive does little to benefit areas the size of Hancock County.

With only a handful of hotels in Hancock County, a total of about 1,000 rooms, leaders would like to use the state's tax rebate incentive to attract quality hotel developments to town.

"From an economic development standpoint, I think it's our largest need right now. We're at a point right now where we can accommodate a lot of tourism based traffic in Bay St. Louis and really in all of Hancock County. I think hotel rooms are the biggest void in our whole capacity to grow our economy," said Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame.

Under the current system, developers aren't eligible for a tax rebate unless they make an investment of $40 million or more.

County leaders say that's just too big of an investment to realistically expect a developer to make in a small community like theirs. They'd like to see the state lower that investment cap to anywhere between $10 million to $15 million.

"The threshold for investment is too high for small communities in Mississippi like our community. We're asking the legislature to look at revamping that and making the investments more tiered so smaller communities can take advantage of that incentive program," explained Tish Williams, Executive Director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce.

Williams said the lack of quality hotel accommodations is putting Hancock County on the losing end of revenue and new residents to St. Tammany Parish, LA.

"So what's happening, especially with Stennis Space Center, when they come into our area, many of them are staying in the Slidell area in hotels there. Then, they start touring around the area and they start looking around residential areas, and the next thing you know they are living in Slidell," said Williams.

They will take that request to state lawmakers next Wednesday, the day after the 2015 legislative session begins.

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