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Picayune Council discusses tax abatement policies

The Picayune City Council is considering two proposed tax abatement programs to attract new businesses to the area and encourage development in downtown.

Pearl River County Economic Development Director Blaine LaFontaine discussed the proposed abatement programs at an economic development workshop in Picayune’s City Hall Tuesday afternoon. The two proposed policies still need to be reviewed by the city’s attorney before the City Council will consider taking any action.

One of the proposed programs would repeal and recreate the existing downtown historic tax abatement program. The current program was created in 2002. LaFontaine told the Item he believes applications for the existing abatement program have not been received since 2005. The proposed policy change would increase the minimum investment required to qualify for the tax abatement to $50,000.

The existing historic downtown tax abatement program already includes façade renovations and general building improvements. The proposed program would add upper residential development to the list of improvements that would qualify.

LaFontaine said the proposed update would make the application process clearer and give clearer criteria.

He also discussed an industry tax abatement policy proposed for both the city and the county. The goal of the policy is to have better defined criteria for tax abatements so businesses owners would have a clearer idea of potential incentives available and the criteria, said LaFontaine. The proposed industry tax abatement policy is similar to neighboring areas, he said, and he believes it would eliminate the subjective way tax abatements have been done in the past.

The policy is said to allow for an annual review and allow the city to offer tax abatements on a five year basis.

LaFontaine also encouraged Council members to consider submitting Restore project applications for consideration next year that focus on projects to grow jobs and wages, like hangars at the airport.

LaFontaine also discussed the 10 year strategic plan for Pearl River County’s economic development. He emphasized the need for targeted industry recruitments, as most recent job growth has been in low wage retail jobs. The plan focuses on industries like aerospace, distribution and healthcare.

Council member Janice Stevens said she often gets calls from constituents who want another grocery store, and she believes additional retail businesses would be beneficial, especially on the north end of the city.

LaFontaine said one issue with attracting retail growth is so many residents commute to workplaces outside of the county, which causes retail leakage. He also said low wage jobs created by additional retail businesses do not create long term economic stability.

Council member Tammy Valente suggested that if new industry came first, more retail businesses would follow.