Minority farmers sue over Miss. county’s taxes

Published 12:29 am Sunday, March 15, 2009

A group of minority farmers in Pike County have sued the state and the local tax assessor, claiming discriminatory taxation of their property.

The Minority Farmers Association filed the lawsuit last month in U.S. District Court in Jackson. The association alleges that tax assessments on property owned by minorities and Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Pike County were higher than for whites.

Among the defendants are Pike County Tax Assessor Joseph B. Young, his staff and the State of Mississippi.

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Wayne Dowdy of McComb, attorney for the Pike County Board of Supervisors, disputed the allegations in a lawsuit.

“When assessing a tract of property, the tax assessor’s office has no records which indicate the property owners’ race. Tax assessments in our county are completely race-neutral,” Dowdy said.

The lawsuit claims in one case a farmer’s property taxes went from $500 in 2006 to $4,500 in 2007 to $7,600 in 2008 — even though “property value has fallen over the entire country.”

“Minority farmers with smaller farms (approximately half the size) with fewer livestock pays nearly 40 percent higher ad valorem property tax as their white farmer counterparts,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit asks for $100,000 per year in compensatory damages plus unspecified punitive damages.

Young told the McComb Enterprise-Journal newspapers that property tax rules are the same “regardless of whether it’s a Katrina victim or someone who has lived here all their life.”

Young said the lawsuit does not list property parcel numbers, so he can’t check into specific complaints.

However, Young said some of the defendants in the suit had recently added structures and improvements to their property, which would have increased the property’s value and increased taxes.

No trial date has been set for the lawsuit.