Are officials making the right moves?Published 11:57pm Saturday, April 13, 2013
Adams County is flirting along an interesting line of public interest versus taxpayer interest.
That statement might seem to contradict itself, but hear me out.
I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about this since a reader mentioned it the other day — if the county keeps buying up public properties, who’s going to pick up the lost taxes?
Sometimes the public’s interest may differ than taxpayer interest.
The county — and its various wings — has recently been throwing its collective weight at all things economic development.
County supervisors have signed off on so many bonds, loans and agreements that they may get confused from time to time about just what they’ve agreed to do.
While not all have been completed, they’ve agreed to help renewables fuel producer KiOR make its land inhabitable by helping to fund construction of a levee to hold by the Mississippi River.
The Adams County Port recently agreed to purchase a gigantic warehouse in the county’s industrial park adjacent to the port.
The county agreed to work special arrangements to help some businesses that have promised to come here with a break on their taxes.
The county is also one of the bidders vying to purchase the former International Paper site, currently owned by Rentech.
All of these moves seemingly are common, but it conjures up an interesting question: Is it government’s place to do all of this stuff?
Clearly the county has a role in economic development efforts. The county is the largest contributor to Natchez Inc., a public-private partnership that serves as the area’s economic development entity.
But should the county seek to take private land off the tax rolls — in the case of both the port’s warehouse purchase as well as the potential IP-Rentech land purchase?
It’s a difficult question to answer, and it goes back to my first statement, each of the moves rides the fine line between what’s best for the public and what’s best for the taxpayer.
Both are linked, clearly, but it comes down to timing.
In the case of the port warehouse, obviously, if the previous owners were paying their taxes, the money lost when the property became public — and thus tax-exempt — will certainly be felt.
But on the other hand, owning warehouse space may allow the port to leverage that asset to garner business it might not otherwise have. It might even bring a new business to the area. If it does, the economic benefit could quickly outweigh the property taxes lost on the building moving off the tax rolls.
Ditto for the IP land. Clearly, with more than 400 acres at play, Rentech is paying the county a pretty big tax bill each year.
That will hurt if the county just holds the property for a long time. But, if the county could manage to parlay the property into better, more lucrative options for taxpayers, we’d all come out ahead.
Again, it comes down to timing.
I hope — and pray — all of the county’s purchases will come out smelling good in the end. If not, voters will be cleaning house come the next election. That’s when the interests of the public and the taxpayers come together and can make things happen.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or email@example.com.