Supervisors OK returning tax money to area company

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2013

     Lincoln County supervisors have authorized returning a portion of McLane Southern’s 2012 tax bill after retroactively granting the trucking and distribution company a free port warehouse exemption for that year.

     Supervisors approved the measure at a Monday morning meeting following a motion made by District Four Supervisor Eddie Brown.

     Free port warehouse status allows local governments to exempt from ad valorem taxation all goods stored at the free port warehouse for transportation to a final destination outside Mississippi.

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     Lincoln County Tax Assessor/Collector Rita Goss recently discovered McLane Southern’s original application for a free port exemption expired in 2002.

     Since 2002, the company had been submitting its free port warehouse license to county supervisors, but has never filed a formal application to renew the exemption, Goss said.

     Despite the lack of an application for renewal, the company received the exemption every year since 2002 until Goss discovered the problem earlier this year.

     As directed by law, Goss said she then moved to collect the taxes for 2012 that would have otherwise been exempt.

     2012 was the first year of Goss’s term. Nancy Jordan held office from 2000 until Goss’s election.

     The current assessor/collector speculates that apparently Jordan never realized the expiration of the exemption.

     The company paid the 2012 tax bill under protest, Goss said. The portion of the bill that would have otherwise been exempt came to approximately $600,000, Goss estimates.

     “It’s the tax payer’s responsibility,” Goss said of the exemption.

     However, a recent bill sponsored by Brookhaven’s state Sen. Sally Doty, of District 39, passed through the legislature this session and was signed by the governor offering modification to the law concerning free port warehouses.

     In the resolution approved by supervisors, county attorney Bob Allen described the modification enacted by Doty as allowing the county to grant 2012 exemption status as long as “the petitioner had submitted an application for licensure and it appearing that McLane Southern, Inc. did apply for licensure on March 29, 2012, it is entitled within discretion of this Board to such exemption.”

     The approval was unanimous, though District Three Supervisor Nolan Williamson expressed dissatisfaction with the move.

     Williamson somewhat sarcastically seized upon Allen’s point that the exemption was at supervisors’ discretion.

     “In our discretion, we don’t really want to give this up,” he said.

     Williamson further mocked the idea that corporate tax breaks serve an economic development purpose and suggested that he if received a tax break, he could benefit the local economy.

     “I might hire me two or three wetbacks, and I’d create jobs,” said Williamson, utilizing a term often considered a slur for Mexican immigrants in the United States.

     When asked about the subject following the supervisor’s meeting, Williamson reiterated his displeasure with the exemption and suggested such corporate tax breaks are “what’s wrong with this country.”

     In other business, supervisors also agreed to pay the costs of recent renovations to the Brookhaven Water Department’s office.

     The office is among a portion of the Government Complex leased by the city of Brookhaven from Lincoln County.

     The improvements were designed to increase security and added a wall between the office and the area occupied by customers while paying bills.

     However, due to an oversight, city authorities didn’t advise supervisors of the planned renovations before undertaking them.

     Supervisors weren’t happy about the unexpected expense but begrudgingly approved a motion to reimburse the construction costs of approximately $6,600.