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Supervisors reject tax breaks for two industries

The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors defeated a resolutionMonday that would have awarded a tax break to Columbus Lumber Co.on a split vote of 3-2.

The company was seeking a free port warehouse exemption – a taxbreak on products in transit through, or manufactured primarily forexport from, the state – that would have lessened its tax paymentsby $13,000. Though Columbus Lumber meets the exemption’srequirements by shipping 83 percent of its products out ofMississippi, awarding it is the supervisors’ discretion, and theywithheld their approval.

Supervisors Gary Walker of District Five, Nolan Earl Williamsonof District Three and Doug Moak of District Four opposed theexemption for Columbus Lumber, while board president the Rev. JerryL. Wilson and District Two Supervisor Bobby J. Watts supportedit.

Like the vote, the board’s feelings on Columbus Lumber weremixed.

Columbus Lumber was not the only company that failed to gain thesupervisors’ nod for tax relief Monday, however. A free portwarehouse exemption sought by Dow Chemical – which stores chemicalsin transit in the industrial park – was denied by the supervisorson a unanimous vote.

Each supervisor spoke of the Columbus Lumber Company’slong-standing importance to Brookhaven. But the exemption wasultimately defeated less because of the strain it could havecreated on the county budget, rather because of the precedent itwould have set for other industries.

Since Columbus Lumber requested a pair of tax exemptions twoweeks ago, at least three other companies have made similarrequests, county officials said.

“On a $12 million budget, $13,000 is not a significant amount atall, it’s immaterial,” said County Administrator David Fields. “Butif you set a precedent one way, who knows who is out there that hasstuff coming through? You have to be careful setting precedents onthese things.”

Moak agreed with Fields’ assessment, saying such tax breaks arenot designed for existing companies but for economic growth.

“Tax breaks are more involved for trying to get new businessesto come in,” he said Monday. “We had three or four similar requestscome in just this morning, and I just didn’t see that we couldafford to grant those breaks.”

Moak also stood by his words when the exemption was firstpresented to the board, saying that tax money could not simply bewaived, but must be shifted elsewhere.

“Everybody is going through difficult times right now, and Ifelt like, as a county, we needed to get as much tax dollars as wecould without having to pass it on to the residents of the county,”he said.

Watts, however – voting in favor of Columbus Lumber’s exemption- was willing to give the give the company a break because of itslongevity.

“I thought it was the thing to do for Columbus Lumber becausethey are our hometown people,” he said. “The mill feeds a lot ofmouths, and I felt like if I voted against that I would hurt ourcounty more than I would help it. It was only $13,000.”

Watts said he supported the company’s attempts to gain theexemption because of its employment of around 125 people, of whichabout 65 percent live in the county, according to a companyreport.

“I didn’t want to vote against the men and women that make theirliving there having a pay day because of $13,000,” he said. “Thoseare our people.”

Columbus Lumber co-owner and vice president Doug Boykin said hewas disappointed at the board’s denial of the free port warehouseexemption, especially considering the 83 percent of the company’sproducts that are exported.

“We thought this was something we should get,” he said. “It’s alittle disappointing that they chose not to help an existingindustry here. What’s the difference in bringing in a new industryand helping out an old one? It’s helping the county as a wholeeither way.”

While disappointed, Boykin was not shattered. Columbus Lumberstill has a new enterprise tax exemption pending before thesupervisors – who are awaiting an attorney general’s opinion on thematter – and Boykin said the company would “just go on.”

“We’re always looking for ways to streamline,” he said. “Thiswas one of the pieces of the puzzle we had for getting throughthese tough economic times. Since this is has not been approved, wewill continue to look elsewhere.”

Columbus Lumber has requested the same two exemptions from theBrookhaven Board of Aldermen, who have not yet made a decision.

Reed’s Metals and Primos Hunting Calls have also put in requestsfor five-year ad velorum exemptions with five-year extensions fornew property and equipment. Board attorney Bob Allen is examiningthe requests, and no action has been taken.

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive VicePresident Cliff Brumfield said there were positive attributes tothe county’s recent explosion of tax exemption requests.

“Each year, when we’ve had strong business cycles and industriesthat have expanded, we’ll see several exemption requests prior tothe June filing deadline,” he said. “These requests reflect a lotof strong movement in the local economy.”