Buildings’ owners get smaller tax break

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2005

A downtown development will receive a five-year property taxbreak on improvements instead of the requested 10 years, aldermendecided Tuesday.

After two new buildings were completed at an estimated cost of$500,000, Clint Gardner appeared at last night’s meeting to requestthe property tax abatements for his and Helen Lynch’s improvementsto the lot at the intersection of South Railroad Avenue andChickasaw Street. He said the tax breaks, which would amount to atotal of around $1,600 a year for 10 years, were warranted.

“We think it definitely has improved the downtown area there,”Gardner said.

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City officials, though, were not eager to grant the abatementfor the requested time period. In order to study the situation, theboard delayed a decision when Gardner appeared at the March 15meeting.

“We’ve got to be very careful with this,” said Mayor Pro TemTerry Bates. “The way the city pays its bills is with tax.”

The abatement would only be on the improvements, with ownersstill responsible for the land taxes. School taxes would also haveto be paid.

Alderman at large Les Bumgarner was vocal in support of the full10 years. He said the abatement was a “reward” for encouragingpeople to develop in the downtown area.

“I think we need to do everything we can to encourage downtownto survive …,” Bumgarner said. “Once we’ve lost downtown, I don’tthink we can get it back.”

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes said it would be a “greatproblem” for the board to have to deal with many more $500,000downtown investments.

Bumgarner said Vicksburg had spent millions on its downtown andNatchez was asking the state for money for its downtown. Thealderman indicated that giving the abatement would not costBrookhaven taxpayers any money because there would be nothing tocollect on had the improvements not been done.

“You’re putting off taxes that weren’t there to start with,”Bumgarner said.

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said, however, the longestperiod he could support is five years.

“We’ve got to know what we’re doing,” Cameron said, alluding tothe precedent that would be set with the tax break vote.

Some aldermen also had questions about what would be considereddowntown, although they generally agreed the Gardner and Lynchproperties would be a part of it. Ward Six Alderman Buddy Allensaid parameters needed to be established for the future.

Citing a conversation with Mayor Bob Massengill, who was outsick Tuesday night, Bates relayed concerns about theprecedent-setting aspect. A two-year tax abatement was one timeperiod mentioned.

Aldermen voted 5-1 in support of Cameron’s motion for afive-year abatement. Bumgarner opposed the measure.

Leaving the meeting last night, Gardner maintained his beliefthat a 10-year abatement was warranted but acknowledged that theboard did not have to grant any break. In April 2003, he said,developers approached the board and received an informal OK that anabatement would be granted.

“I’m thankful for the five years,” Gardner said.

Gardner’s building is used entirely for his law practice. Thefirst floor of the Lynch building is used for a financial servicesbusiness, and upstairs is an apartment.

In other business, planner Roy Geoghegan said he plans to submitBrookhaven’s application for a HOME grant Thursday before theFriday deadline.

The city is seeking funding to rehabilitate or rebuild severalhomes in Ward Two. In years past, the city has been unsuccessful ingetting a grant for individual homes in all the city’s wards.

With the city board’s change in its approach to the grant,Geoghegan was optimistic about funding possibilities.

“The numbers this year look better than they have in yearspast,” Geoghegan said.