Harrison Co. Debates Tax Breaks For Businesses

As Harrison County tries to rebound from the financial blow dealt by Hurricane Katrina, supervisors disagree on whether large tax breaks for businesses help or hurt. Monday, after a lengthy debate, the board approved more than a million dollars in tax relief for a Gulfport-based company.

Supervisor William Martin wasn't happy when a motion to deny a company's request for a tax break came before any discussion from the board.

"I don't want this county to take the position that we are going to automatically deny any tax exemptions for any businesses," said Martin. "That's not fair. If we do, we'll be the only county doing that and we won't be able to compete."

District 3's Marlin Ladner disagrees. He says the county can't justify divvying out tax breaks while it takes out millions of dollars in loans to stay afloat.

"I don't think this is a good time," said Ladner. "We have not fully recovered from the Katrina. Hopefully in the future we would, but I don't think at this time it's appropriate to be giving tax credits."

ANI Pharmaceuticals requested a $1.4 million property tax break for its equipment. The Harrison County Development Commission says the pharmaceutical company, which employs 122, is considering expansion.

Larry Barnett is the executive director of the H.C.D.C.

"I think this would give them an indication that we are a business friendly community. It also gives other people looking at us that we are a business friendly community."

However, that friendliness must go both ways. After Oreck announced plans to shut down just as its ten year tax exemption was expiring, some leaders became more reluctant to give such large tax breaks. Five years is now the norm, and with more checks and balances.

Ladner said, "It's contractual agreements to see that these companies that do receive these tax credits meet their obligations. And if they don't meet their obligations, then we discontinue the tax credit."

Supervisor Martin says bringing in business is always in the county's best interest.

"We are a business friendly county," Martin said.

According to the Tax Assessor's Office, Harrison County gives tax breaks on $42 million worth of commercial property.