What’s your city and county up to?

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 13, 2015

Picayune and the county are reviewing a request to establish a Tax Increment Financing district and jointly issue $6,500,000 in bonds. The Cooper Company is proposing “The Highlands Commons”, a project of 300 acres with a Walmart Neighborhood Market, commercial and retail space, and residential developments. Sounds good – but if it were a sound business decision, or one that didn’t favor the politically connected, the Cooper Company would go ahead on their own. Instead Picayune will give 100 percent of all ad valorem taxes and 50 percent of sales taxes, and the county will give 50 percent of all ad valorem taxes from these new businesses to establish infrastructure for this development.

As you can see, much of the tax money generated by this venture will go to finance it – not into the city/county coffers. So in reality the taxpayers are paying for infrastructure for this development.

These taxes would otherwise go to libraries, fire departments, and other government services. Instead, we are financing a commercial development, albeit one with a supposedly large carrot – lots of additional tax revenue in the future. But are there any guarantees? I seriously doubt it. If there are projections of additional tax revenue, then let someone put it in a contract and make it binding. Let the taxpayers, for once, get a guarantee on their investment instead of empty promises.

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Of that freebee request for this development involved the first phase discussed during the June 9th Picayune Council meeting, where Laurence Leyens of Urban Development Toolbox, asked the Council to help build a $2,000,000 road from Highland Parkway to U.S. 11 to access the proposed Walmart. How can the city justify building a $2,000,000 road for a multi-billion dollar corporation when small business owners have to do it on their own? Wal-Mart and the developer should pay, just like the little guys.

Everyone needs to understand the TIF mechanism. However, it is impossible to explain within the word count limits of this article. I strongly suggest you look into this for yourself and get a good understanding of how this subsidy works. It is very probable that taxes will increase in the future for homeowners and businesses outside the TIF. Do elected officials know this, or are they pretending that it won’t happen? Nothing is free, and while it is a good deal for the developer, someone has to pay. TIF was originally sold as a mechanism to develop blighted areas, not areas where development would have occurred anyway. Is Picayune blighted? Some states have passed legislation to curb abuse of this form of subsidy, as TIF developments often lead to favoritism of politically connected developers. Now there is a surprise.

I understand this will be discussed at the next City Council meeting on Tuesday, the 16th. I urge everyone to attend. I also understand a public hearing is proposed for July the 7th. I doubt the actual TIF plan will be available for review before then, as informed questions would be a big threat to this project. But plan to attend and understand how you are helping to fund a commercial development with your hard earned tax dollars.

By Donna Knezevich.