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Officials hunt for industrial park funds

Lincoln County supervisors are continuing to support and explorefunding options for a new industrial park despite a recent chamberof commerce finding that property tax revenue cannot be dividedbetween school districts.

Meanwhile, a meeting scheduled for July 17 between county, cityand chamber officials to discuss the industrial park has beenpostponed. Chandler Russ, the chamber’s executive vice-president,cited scheduling conflicts in delaying the meeting.

“We’re going to try to schedule it for the middle of August,”Russ said. “That’s the next time we can get everybodytogether.”

County and city officials have each been asked to pursue bondissues of $2 to $2.2 million for the estimated $4.7 millionproject. City and county money would be paired with approximately$500,000 raised by the chamber’s Vision Partnership campaign to buyland and develop the park on a site west of the city.

Both the city board and county board have expressed support forthe park project, but neither have acted on the funding issue.

In June, supervisors raised several issues regarding the parkproject. Those included public school student benefits and thepossibility of revenue sharing between the city and countydistricts, displaced resident issues and the possibility of a salestax option to help finance the project.

Chamber officials researched the questions and notified theboard of findings in a letter. Supervisors acknowledged the letterat their meeting Monday but did not discuss it.

In the letter, Russ said attorneys with a private firm and thosefrom the Attorney General’s office, state Department of Educationand Mississippi Development Authority were unanimous in theirconclusion that is it “statutorily impossible for one schooldistrict to share tax revenues collected in that district withanother school district.” County school officials have expressedconcerns about a lack of taxable property to generate revenue forthe district.

Russ, however, pointed out other benefits of the industrial parkfor all public school students.

“The new industrial park will provide them with real qualityjobs and career opportunities here in Lincoln County instead ofleaving for other areas,” Russ said. “In addition, the growthcreated from the new industrial park in all areas of Lincoln Countywill benefit the schools through ad valorem taxation on new andexisting structures.”

Russ also mentioned increased state revenue from increasedstudent populations due to industrial park industries.

District 3 Supervisor and board president Nolan Earl Williamsonindicated disappointment in the findings. He said he would like tosee schools involved in the process.

“We’ll just see how it’s going to go,” Williamson said.

Regarding the possibility of a sales tax to help fund the park,the chamber letter cast doubt on that option.

Russ said research found no cases where sales tax has beenlevied to develop an industrial park. The most common uses of thatoption have been for convention and visitors bureaus, tourism andeconomic development marketing.

“As for a countywide sales tax, I have found no precedent thatwould allow for such a provision,” Russ said.

Chances for a sales tax on hotels and restaurants, more commonlyknown as a “bed and breakfast tax,” to fund an industrial park wereequally dim. A bill, supported by the state’s municipal andsupervisors association, to allow the practice failed during thepast legislation session, Russ said.

“The proposed legislation was defeated soundly and never cameout of committee,” Russ said.

Federal funding assistance for the industrial park is expectedto be on the agenda during an upcoming trip to Washington for asmall group of county officials to meet with congressionalrepresentatives. County Engineer Carl Ray Furr said there may beseveral potential economic development sources of funding to assistwith infrastructure needs but not land purchase.

“You can’t buy any land with federal dollars,” Furr said.

Williamson remained confident that the industrial park situationwould work out and would be all right.

“As far as needing an industrial park, it’s got to happen,”Williamson said.