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No clear answer on school split of property tax

A preliminary review of state laws finds no authority for schooldistricts to share property tax revenue generated by industries,but a more formal evaluation could yield a window of opportunityfor that to be done, a state education attorney said Wednesday.

Richard Roberson, special assistant attorney general and generalcounsel for the state Department of Education, said he had found nocode section that addressed the tax revenue sharing issue directly.Mentioning several code sections, he said the laws indicate thatgoverning entities and school districts are to use revenuegenerated from within their respective areas.

“It just doesn’t look like there’s any crossover,” Robersonsaid.

Sharing of property tax revenue has been mentioned as apossibility as Lincoln County supervisors consider their role indeveloping a new industrial park. City and county officials haveeach been asked to pursue up to $2.2 million bond issues to helppurchase land and develop the park.

The proposed park site is on 550 acres of 15th and 16th sectionland west of the city in the Brookhaven School District, meaningthe city school district would be entitled to property tax revenuepaid by industries that would locate there. However, Lincoln CountySchool District officials and supervisors have expressed concernsabout limited taxable industrial property and would like to find away to increase revenue for the county schools.

Roberson said he would strongly recommend seeking an officialAttorney General’s opinion on the matter. He said his evaluation ofthe state law was a preliminary and informal review.

“It’s not an official opinion in any way and should not be takenas such,” Roberson said.

Roberson said an opinion request would result in a more formalreview. Although no authority was found, he said something maycould be located if attorneys and parties involved gettogether.

“It’s kind of gray at this point,” Roberson said.

Chandler Russ, Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerceexecutive vice-president, said his conversations with MississippiDevelopment Authority attorneys had yielded similar results.

“They feel like it is something that is not feasible withoutadditional legislation,” Russ said.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Perry Miller saidhe believed it would be appropriate to seek an official AG’sopinion. However, he said it would be out of order to make anyother comments until city and county officials, school board andchamber representatives have a chance to meet.

“I think we need to meet and see what the results of thatmeeting are,” Miller said. “I’m anxious to sit down with everyoneand discuss it.”

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Dr. Sam Bounds saidschool boards are under stringent rules regarding 16th sectiontrust lands under their supervision. Regarding the 15th section,non-school land, Bounds said he was not surprised at theopinion.

“You really need to provide for the students the best you canfrom revenue generated within those boundary lines,” said Bounds,who did not comment further.

Russ said he would be contacting county officials regarding theschool tax issue opinion Thursday. He was still working onaddressing some other questions raised by supervisors and hoped tobe able to set up a meeting with various officials “fairlysoon.”

Supervisors have expressed a commitment to do their part indeveloping a new industrial park. Phase one of the project isestimated to cost around $4.7 million.

The board said Monday it is in the process of determining themost effective, cost efficient manner in which to fund the county’scommitment to the new park. Financial information regardingdisplaced resident costs, bond issue cost estimates and data onsales tax increase possibilities is needed before that can bedone.

Brookhaven officials have also expressed support for the parkproject but are awaiting information on how a bond issue wouldrelate to annexation and other city plans.

A city board meeting with annexation consultants and a bondissue attorney, scheduled for next week, was postponed Tuesday. Anew meeting date has not been determined.