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Jackson County business, industry leaders relieved

County denies, then approves tax exemptions for industry

PASCAGOULA – Jackson County industry and business leaders are relieved that the Jackson County Board of Supervisors has approved $206 million in tax exemptions just two weeks after an earlier vote failed to grant the exemptions.

Failure to grant the exemptions had caused concerns.

“Tax exemptions are a must for any county that wants to compete for industry these days,” said Ed Locke, chair of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce board of directors and manager of the International Paper Mill in Moss Point. “Everyone does it. You don’t get a plus mark for doing it. You get a black mark for not doing it.”

Locke said the failure to grant tax exemptions would have placed Jackson County in a less competitive position with other counties willing to give exemptions.

Slightly more than $200 million of the exemptions were for the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery paraxylene expansion. Supervisor Burt Patterson had questioned how much benefit the county will receive from the expansion considering the fact that the project created only about a dozen jobs. Patterson said Chevronalready receives an exemption on inventory taxes, a significant break considering the fact that the refinery has an average of $2 billion worth of inventory.

Patterson had said that he felt the industry tax exemptions were placing too much taxation burden on home owners and small businesses.

Steve Renfroe, public affairs manager for Chevron in Mississippi, said the company believed the exemptions should have been granted because that was the county’s policy at the time Chevron made the $200-million investment.

“We are very pleased the supervisors decided to go ahead and approve exemptions on the table,” Renfroe said. “We think it is not only good for Chevron, but for Jackson County. We also encourage the supervisors to proceed to name a committee to look at the tax exemption process, and make sure that the current process benefits the county.

“Obviously we think that we made investments that are extremely beneficial to Jackson County, but there should be no doubt when supervisors grant tax exemptions that is something that not only benefits the company but the county, as well.”

Four of the five members of the board of supervisors won’t be returning in January. Three supervisors were defeated in their primary election bids, and one supervisor didn’t run for re-election. Industry tax exemption had been a major issue during the campaign.

Melody K. Bradley, executive director of the Jackson County Port Authority, said that the port – which is responsible for economic development in the county – is very pleased that the board approved the exemptions.

“The tradition of supporting our industry and their commitment to Jackson County through significant capital improvements and continued expansions has continued,” Bradley said.

“These industries could certainly put their sizable investments in their plants (or yards) in other communities and states where they have similar operations and who – let me assure you – would be willing to offer these tax incentives to have andor keep these valuable assets.”

Bradley said she hoped granting the exemptions would send a positive message to the businesses and industries being actively recruited for various locations in Jackson County.

“In this global environment we operate in today, these companies have instant access to what goes on in our area,” Bradley said. “This should go a long way towards reinforcing the business-friendly image we strive to convey.”

The current budget planned for Jackson County includes a tax decrease of five mills and, for the second year in a row, no money for funding economic development. The port authority had requested $200,000 for economic development. The supervisors are giving the port authority one mill for operations, and reportedly expect the estimated $735,000 generated by the mill to also cover economic development since that responsibility is vested in the port authority.

“Nobody in the county seems to be willing to fund economic development,” Locke said. “Clearly this is a function of state and local government, and we have to have funding to expect to be successful in economic development.”

A third tax exemption request this year, for a $43-million investment by Friede Goldman Offshore, was approved in August. That exemption had been promised as part of the incentive package used to attract Friede Goldman to Pascagoula.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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