PASCAGOULA — A Jones County chancery judge has ruled constitutional a 2007 state law that required the Pascagoula School District to share future tax dollars generated from Chevron facilities with other school districts.
The Pascagoula School District had filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the law authored by then-Sen. Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point.
Under the law, property taxes generated from new expansions at Chevron Refinery and liquefied natural gas facilities in Pascagoula would be shared among the Pascagoula district and the Moss Point, Ocean Springs and Jackson County school districts.
Jones County Judge Franklin C. McKenzie Jr. ruled against the lawsuit May 5 in Laurel, according to the Mississippi Press. A copy of the ruling was not available until it is filed in Jackson County Chancery Court.
“We’ll have to evaluate where we are now and then proceed forward,” said Pascagoula Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich. “This is just one step in the process.”
Rodolfich said he would present the judge’s ruling to the school board Monday and they have 30 days to decide if they will appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.
The Pascagoula district currently retains taxes on existing Chevron facilities.
The statute states that Pascagoula would receive 29 percent of taxes generated by the new developments and the other districts would split the remaining 71 percent based on enrollment. That currently breaks down to 37 percent for Jackson County schools, 22 percent for Ocean Springs and 12 percent for Moss Point, according to Superintendent Barry Amacker of Jackson County’s district.
Pascagoula filed the lawsuit, hoping the law would be ruled unconstitutional and it would avoid that split and get the entire property tax collection, officials have said.
“The judge said the burden of proof was on Pascagoula to prove the law was unconstitutional,” said Ocean Springs Superintendent Robert Hirsch said. “The judge said the Legislature has the right to make the laws how they want. Based on the way things went today, I think even if they do appeal to the Supreme Court, it will go in our favor.”
While Chevron has since announced its expansion plans are on hold, the $1.1 billion Gulf LNG plant is under construction on Bayou Casotte and scheduled to begin operations next year.
Amacker said his school district’s projected cut of the LNG plant’s property taxes is about $4 million annually when the facility becomes fully operational.
“If this holds true, then dreams in the Jackson County schools are about to come true,” Amacker said.
The lawsuit named the Jackson County Board of Supervisors as well as the county’s tax collector, tax assessor and the state of Mississippi. It was filed in October 2008 in Jackson County Chancery Court, but was later moved to Jones County Chancery Court.
Chevron is Jackson County’s largest taxpayer, including a $33 million payment last year. About half of that goes to the 19 schools in the Pascagoula district, which includes Gautier schools, and the other half goes to the county.
When this dispute started, Chevron had plans for getting into the LNG business in Pascagoula, but that is no longer the case.
“Chevron has decided not to go forward with the Casotte Landing Natural Gas Import Terminal project in Jackson County, Mississippi,” said Chevron spokesman Steve Renfroe. “The company believes regas capacity in the Gulf Coast is sufficient to meet projected demand for LNG in the region and that company resources would be better directed to other projects.”