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Weather, hospitality, slower pace of life aren

No. 1 reason for retiring in Mississippi? Tax savings

Why do retirees relocate to Mississippi?

You can talk about escaping the cold and ice up North. The Southern hospitality. A slower pace of life. Less crime and congestion. The bottom line is the bottom line, though: tax savings which allow retirees to enjoy more of their hard-earned income is the number one attraction for relocating retirees.

“The main reason why retirees want to relocate here is the tax savings,” says Tona Becker, retirement coordinator for the City of Madison. “For a married couple 65 or older, the first $75,000 of appraised value of homes is exempt from property tax. That is a big, big plus. No state income taxes on retirement income is also a big deal.”

Virginia and Myron Bernitz lived in Joplin, Mo., for 17 years before relocating to Tupelo about a year ago.

“My husband said we moved here for tax purposes,” Virginia said. “Taxes were the most important thing in his book. Mine was being closer to my family. We do love it here. It is a great place to live. I have joined a Red Hat Society, we have found a church that we love and we are building a home.”

The Bernitz were driving through Tupelo on the way to visit relatives in Birmingham when they saw a billboard on the highway that advertised Tupelo as a “Certified Retirement City.”

“I said to my husband, ‘Let’s check it out,’” Bernitz said. “We went to City Hall and met with Jean Mooneyhan (Tupelo retirement director), who told us that a couple paid no property taxes on the first $75,000 worth of a home. Jean took us on a tour, and the people were just wonderful. It is a hospitality city. The people here are very friendly.”

She also is now only a 2-1/2-hour drive from her relatives in Birmingham, Ala., compared to a 12-hour drive from Missouri.

Another couple who was attracted to Mississippi by the tax benefits is Mary and Ray Marshall of Biloxi.

“It was a financial decision,” Mary said. “We had been retired for nearly six years and lived in Central Texas. The tax advantages that Mississippi offers were very attractive for us. So, we changed plans and came to Mississippi. The reason we even looked at Mississippi for a re-retirement situation was because my husband had family here.”

The Marshalls attended a Hometown Getaway in Vicksburg that was sponsored by the Retirement Partnership of Mississippi. There they were able to talk to hometown ambassadors from the 20 Certified Retirement Cities in the state. Marshall said they were very attracted to Oxford, but had to strike it off the list when they found out there were no physicians in the Oxford area who accepted their health insurance plan.

“We are not on Medicare — we are early retirees — and we are still using the health insurance provided by my husband’s former employer,” Mary said. “The other reason we were interested in the Coast was because of all the access to entertainment. There are some 20 performing arts groups in this area, and coming from central Texas we were really interested in fresh seafood.”

A month ago the Marshalls moved into a new home they had built near Edgewater Mall and are enjoying being within walking distance to shopping, restaurants, their church and the beach.

“For us, it was an ideal location,” Mary said. “Our hobbies are nature hobbies. We love bird watching, and we like the different birding opportunities here. And since we moved a month ago, we have had three sets of visitors. We’re having more company now than we ever did in Texas, and that is another benefit of locating here. The grandchildren want to come to the beach. No one ever came to visit us in Central Texas.”

When you think about retirees relocating in the South, you often think of snowbirds relocating to Florida. But in the case of Terry and Charlene Ott, they left Fort Lauderdale after living there 24 years to relocate in Oxford, which was recently named one of the top places to retire in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

South Florida was too crowded and congested for the Otts.

“When we left there 14 months ago, the county where Fort Lauderdale is located had two million people,” Terry said. “The whole state of Mississippi has about 2.5 million people. We had been coming up here to Tunica three or four times per year. We had talked about relocating because of the traffic and congestion in Fort Lauderdale. A friend told me I had to stop in Oxford and visit the bookstore, Square Books. That got us here. The lack of population is excellent. We like the small-town atmosphere.”

The Otts did a lot of research before deciding to relocate, and found Christy Knapp, assistant executive director for the OxfordLafayette County Economic Development Foundation, to be “extremely outgoing and helpful.” Knapp also directs the EDF’s retiree relocation program.

The Otts were also attracted by the cultural benefits of being located in the home of the University of Mississippi. Good medical facilities and staff were also important considerations. Plus, they like the weather in Oxford.

“People who move here from up North would say it is hot and humid,” Terry said. “But the weather is better than in Florida.”

The Otts built a new home from scratch — the first time they had undertaken that kind of venture. And they had a wonderful time with the process.

“Another thing we found interesting here is a group called the Newcomer’s Club, which is a bit of misnomer because some people have been here five or six years,” Terry said. “Most of the people in the Newcomer’s Club were born and raised here, went off and then came back when they retired. There are about 10 different groups within the Newcomer’s Club, which means there is always something going on. I couldn’t afford to work right now I’m so busy.”

Starkville also has retirees drawn by the university. Jack and Lois Kean grew up in Mississippi, and lived in St. Louis, Dallas, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. before returning to retire in Starkville. The Keens said low taxes, a moderate cost of living and the mild climate cinched the deal for them when deciding to move back to Mississippi.

“You just can’t beat it,” Jack said. “The university is great. Our calendar stays full with football, basketball, concerts, plays and lectures. Of course, we knew about all the antebellum homes and historical attractions in Mississippi, but all these new resorts are very impressive. The casinos are fun and there are always some big-name acts coming through. With so many golf courses springing up, we might have to buy some clubs.”

It has been estimated that retiring Baby Boomers have helped increase the population growth in the South, which has outpaced other areas of the country by as much as 50%. And Mississippi may get an increasing share of those relocating retirees in the future as Florida continues to get more expensive and crowded.

The state’s retiree recruitment program began 10 years ago. The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has commissioned the Stennis Institute of Government to evaluate the benefits of that program after a decade, and what more might be done to enhance recruitment of retirees.

The study will look at the viability of exempting people who reach certain ages (62 and 65) from state income taxes. Currently only pensions and other sources of retirement plan income is exempted. Retirees who have income from other sources still pay state income taxes.

Brynn Joachim, marketing manager for the Harrison County Development Commission, said based on what comes out of that study in terms of financial impacts and benefits, plans will be made to move forward.

“The reason it has come up is we are still in the shadow of states like Florida, Nevada and Texas in terms of attracting the most affluent retirees, people with incomes in excess of $150,000, because those states have no income taxes for retirees,” Joachim said.

With an estimated half of affluent retirees from the Midwest and Northeast planning to relocate for retirement, Mississippi could greatly benefit by attracting more retirees with deep pocketbooks.

“With our close proximity to Florida, similar amenities and Mississippi’s growing appeal to retirees, we think the elimination of the state income tax would remove the last hurdle in the minds of those affluent retirees,” Joachim said.

For more information on retirement communities in Mississippi, see the Web site http://www.retirenet.com/ms/. For information about Certified Retirement Cites, see the Web site www.mississippi.org/retire/index.html.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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