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Leland Speed talks outside the Capitol this week with supporters of a community improvement district.

Community improvement district supporters rally for legislation

By JACK WEATHERLY

jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com

Supporters of a bill that would have created community improvement districts in cities across Mississippi rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday to urge Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to reconsider the measure.

Senate Bill 3045 died in the Senate Finance Committee because it was not called up for a vote.

Reeves, who is president of the Senate, could have made that happen, proponents said, but for the fourth time Reeves did not.

Leland Speed, longtime business and civic leader, spoke on the Capitol steps, saying he was confounded by Reeves’ response to the proposed legislation.

He said that he had “begged” Reeves to support it, but that Reeves never said no nor gave a reason.

Reeves sent word to the Mississippi Business Journal via email from his communications director, Laura Hipp, as follows:

“The Lieutenant Governor personally knows people who are living on a fixed income and can’t afford to pay 6 more mills because they already live in one of the highest-taxed jurisdictions in Mississippi. Some rich people may be fine paying more taxes, but they have the ability to voluntarily contribute to their homeowners’ association right now.

“Most conservative Republicans in the Senate oppose raising people’s taxes and turning over tax dollars to unelected representatives. He applauds those who contribute to homeowners’ associations to make their community a better place.

“Also, the bill did not die in committee last year. It died on the calendar because no one from the Jackson delegation would come to the podium to defend it.”

Twenty-four representatives of neighborhood associations signed a letter to Reeves dated March 8.

The letter was signed by Ben Allen, president of Jackson Downtown Partners, a business improvement district, and Speed, listed as chairman emeritus of the group.

“There are hundreds of [CIDs], allowing neighborhoods and communities within a city to voluntarily assess themselves with a ‘fee’ for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life, protect property values and generally improve neighborhoods,” the letter stated.

Speed said he is “very confident” that there are votes in the associations to muster a 60 percent approval, or whatever the “super-majority” may be.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay, who attended the press conference, said afterward that the legislation is a “vehicle for empowering neighborhoods to help themselves.”

The bill was sponsored by all senators in the metro Jackson area.

Sen. J. Walter Michel told the Journal in a phone interview on Wednesday that the Local and Private Committee, of which he is a member, approved a number of local sales tax increases, including one in Vaiden, which is on Interstate 55 and benefits from travelers.

The CID bill also sailed through the committee, he said. The major difference between a CID levy  and a sales tax would be that a property tax or fee is imposed only on those who live in and own property in the district formed by residents, he said.

Downtown Jackson Partners, a business improvement district, was proposed in 1993, but it took three years to get legislation for that approved, Allen said.

“Today, the downtown business improvement district is statistically the safest area in the state of Mississippi,” he said.

In 1996, 72 percent of downtown property owners voted for creation of the district, Allen said.

The latest renewal of the district, in 2016, got a 96.5 percent vote to continue the assessment, with a 10 percent increase, he said.

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About Jack Weatherly

4 comments

  1. The proposed bill would allow a large fraction of residents or non-resident business-owners to jack up property taxes on every other land-owner in the neighborhood – by petitioning either the City Council or the Jackson Redevelopment Authority to declare the neighborhood to be a ‘community improvement district.’

    I thank Tate Reeves for seeing through the window-dressing and realizing his duty is to defend elderly people who reside in a house they have paid off in full, but who would have to move out if their property taxes jumped higher. The Lt. Governor is protecting long-time residents from being forced to find a cheaper town or village to live in.

    Under the bill that died, an improvement district would be given power “to improve the appearance of” public or private properties within the district. (Quoting from SB 3045.) The extra property tax revenue could be used to hire architects and landscape architects. SB 3045 also would empower the improvement district to buy, fix up, and re-sell a vacant storefront or rental house. Some utopians and entrepreneurs wish to practice exterior decorating on other people’s buildings and grounds. Why? To attract tourists (shoppers).

    If more robust security is needed in your neighborhood, you don’t need to form an improvement district and hike taxes. Why don’t you run for city council, or apply to join the police force (and thereby reduce the shortage of eligible applicants)? Or recruit neighbors, establish a schedule, and patrol your own neighborhood.

  2. Steven Weatherly

    I understand the concern over this being an additional tax or fee, especially given the fact that residents already pay property taxes. However, at a bigger picture level it should be noted that the empowerment of neighborhood through strong home owners associations will maintain or improve property values which could earn every owner thousands of dollars at time of sale. Moreover, the association can address immediate concerns that even the best run governments in the country would be slow to address.

    In Virginia, the state government has long since fostered the home owner association concept and backed it with laws and legislation. The reason it works is because its completely run by the residents who can decide if they want to operate a really cheap association with cheap fees or run a high end expensive operation. My neighborhood runs a cheap operation, about $100 a month fee, and we each take turns sitting on the association board. Fees pay for accounting, landscaping, trash, etc. Recently, our association had a house full of drug addicted renters removed by contacting the owner with evidence of the misdeeds.

    I think the reason Virginia embraces this concept, beyond the functional obvious reasons, is that its in the spirit of the state’s long history of self-government going back to the House of Burgesses. Notionally, the house ran similar to the home owners in that everyone in the neighborhood would be expected to take a turn in the house for a term and then give others a chance at self-government. If one thinks of it in this historical concept, I think its starts to make more sense. It also forces the citizens to take ownership of the community and ownership leads to pride in the community over time. I think this could be an excellent way to stem the outflow of talent leaving the state, which has been written about a lot recently. They’ll feel as if they owe something to their community.

  3. “Also, the bill did not die in committee last year. It died on the calendar because no one from the Jackson delegation would come to the podium to defend it.”

    The “whole story”:

    We have all heard about “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. Ms. Hipp’s statement that last year “no one from the Jackson delegation came forward to defend the bill” is true. The “whole truth” however, is that the Jackson delegation was told that if the CID was considered (last year), then the CCID (Capital Complex Improvement District) would NOT be, as the bills were confusing when considered together, and that 2 “Jackson bills” would not be considered in one session. The Jackson delegation was ASSURED that the CID initiative WOULD be considered in the 2018 (this current) session. The delegation correctly chose last year to support the CCID initiative, as it creates funding for the city of Jackson in the areas of state owned buildings and properties.

    Her comment makes it seem that no one from Jackson supported this CID, when the facts are EVERY Jackson Senator was in support of it.

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