Harrison Co. supervisor says tax break package was 'rushed'

Harrison Co. supervisor says tax break package was 'rushed'

A Harrison County supervisor says he regrets moving so quickly in approving millions of dollars in tax breaks for Top Ship.

The ship-building company is promising to create 1,000 new jobs at its facility on Seaway Road in Gulfport. Top Ship, an affiliate of Edison Chouset, will invest $68 million to build ships at an inland port site, owned by the Port of Gulfport.

In exchange, the company received tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives.

"I voted to approve it without reading it," admitted Harrison County supervisor, Marlin Ladner, when talking about the memorandum of understanding which includes the tax breaks. "In hindsight, once I had the opportunity to read the whole MOU, then I had some issues with it."

Ladner says county leaders were rushed into approving their portion of the tax break deal. The board vote came on the very morning the deal was made public at a press conference.

"That issue was being announced by the governor and public officials at the same exact time," said Ladner, "That's what I'm talking about in reference to time; there was some pressure."

Although such incentives might mean jobs, Ladner says they come at a cost.

"The taxpayers need to understand, when we grant a tax exemption, they have to pick up that difference. That costs the taxpayers in reference to services provided. For example, the sheriff's department and fire department."

Harrison County already has experience dealing with an affiliate of Edison Chouest. Gulf Ship has been located in the industrial park for nearly 10 years. Development commission director Bill Hessell says Gulf Ship not only invested some $70 million in the facility, it met its obligation to create 300 jobs in exchange for a five year county tax break.

"Keep in mind that once we approve those tax exemptions, those tax exemptions are in place for that period of time, no matter what happens; other than the fact if they actually close down," said Ladner.

The supervisor says the board was led to believe that without its approval of the tax breaks, the Top Ship deal may fall through.

He adds that along with the tax break plan being rushed, there was also a good deal of secrecy surrounding the issue.

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