Thursday, June 15, 2006
Growth coming; county focuses on plan
By SUE WATSON
With Marshall County sitting on the edge of two of the biggest growth areas in the United States - DeSoto County and Collierville, Tenn. - the county is sure to get some of the new business moving this direction, according to Bill Renick, executive director of the Industrial Development Authority.
After 10 years of hard work to get the Chickasaw Trails Industrial area open, now many companies are interested in locating here. Preparing for that growth, which could cause a doubling in population in 10 years, as has occurred in DeSoto County, is something that should be planned well, he said.
Marshall County’s growth has been relatively static at four, five or six percent growth up until now.
“We’re trying to plan it (growth),” he said. “They did a good job in DeSoto County, but had to keep up with it.”
Some pluses of new growth often touted by planners is that with development comes an escalation in land prices, something seen as good for the county’s tax base and for the individual property owner.
Land prices in Marshall County have escalated in the northwestern portion of the county but are still a bargain for some people looking to locate as compared to prices in DeSoto County, he said. Property now sells by the square foot, instead of by the acre, in some places in DeSoto County, Renick said.
“The land prices right now, even as high as we think they are in Marshall County, are still a bargain for some people thinking of bringing companies here as compared to DeSoto County and Memphis,” Renick said.
In the last 10 years, DeSoto County became home to 197 new or expanded industries (19 a year on average), saw 7,158 new jobs created (average of 716 a year), spent $1.2 billion in capital improvements ($122 million a year on average) and doubled its population (added 107,000 new residents), according to 2000 Census figures.
Rapid development can cause problems if it is not planned well, Renick said.
“Our whole plan is preparing for growth,” he said. “We want to do the right things so that when companies and people start moving here, that our schools and law enforcement, health care and fire protection are there.”
Jim Flanagan, president/CEO of DeSoto Council, said his county was one of the first in the state that implemented land-use (zoning) controls.
“That set the stage for growth to occur in an orderly fashion,” he said.
A pro-active program to lay down infrastructure ahead of the growth curve was an important part of staying ready for growth, he said. Leadership saw the need for a countywide sewer program moving ahead of developers.
The way DeSoto County got its sewer project and other infrastructure needs funded was by taking its issues to the Mississippi Legislature and the Congressional delegation for funding.
“You all (Marshall County) have put a lot of things in place to capture that natural progression of growth to Marshall County with Memphis being a transportation and distribution hub,” he said.
As residential growth escalated in DeSoto County, more pressure was put on the educational system. DeSoto County tackled that need by passing a $140 million bond issue 18 months ago to build new schools and maintain existing structures, Flanagan said. Several schools were built each year with the bond issue monies.
Riki Jackson, communications director for the DeSoto County School District, said the county planned to build 10 new schools in three years with the bond money but were only able to build eight. One opened in the fall of 2005, and six new schools will open this fall and an eighth school is set to open in June of 2007, Jackson said.
The school bond issue passed in March 2004.
DeSoto County School District is the second largest school district and the fastest growing one in the state. The county is the seventh fastest growing county in the nation, she said.
Jackson said the school district was the biggest magnet for growth in DeSoto County. An average of seven and a half families arrive in the county a day, she said.
“Quality schools is the engine that has been driving economic development,” Jackson said. “People want to move where they have a wonderful school that they feel safe in.”
The second biggest force that drives the economic engine is the community and third is tax abatements, according to Jackson.
“People transfer in for their families - the schools and community,” she said. “If the schools don’t look good, people don’t come.”
She emphasized that people do not usually move in to get low taxes but that good schools and communities attract new residents.
Strong leadership over the last 30 years built the foundation for good schools, according to Jackson.
“There was nothing like a magic pill that changed things overnight,” she said.
DeSoto County School District recruited top teachers by offering salary supplements based on years of experience and exceeded the state framework requirements in education.
New teacher salaries start at $32,900 a year, she said.
The school district also put together a good package of benefits.
Jackson said a strong leadership at levels of the board president, the superintendent of education, the municipal mayors and the board of supervisors - was key to the overall success of the school district.
All felt that DeSoto County was in the right place, at the right time with the right leadership, she said.
Leaders realized they had to talk to each other in order to pull in high-profile companies, she said.
DeSoto County leadership decided they wanted to attract companies with high paying service jobs or professionally-oriented jobs that pay well.
Communication is the key to building strong communities, she said.
“It took leadership coming together at all levels and being honest to make the hard decisions,” Jackson said. “It all has to fit together like a puzzle.”
Parker Pickle, tax assessor in DeSoto County for 16 years, provided some interesting growth statistics.
DeSoto County is adding about 10 percent a year to its total assessed valuation, he said.
“Probably after Hurricane Katrina, DeSoto County is the largest jurisdiction in the state in total assessed value,” he said. “In 1990 our total assessed value was $188 million. In 2005 it was about $2.2 billion.”
Mill rates in the five cities came to 31.50 for Olive Branch, 31.75 for Hernando, 38.00 for Horn Lake, 44.73 for Southhaven, and 21.00 for Walls. The average county mill rate is about 96.50, he said.
By comparison, the 2005 mill rate including the school tax in Marshall County was 118.95, according to Ronnie Johnson, tax assessor. The mill rate for Holly Springs was 25.25 mills; 26.50 mills for Byhalia and 30.80 mills for Potts Camp.
The number of 2006 homestead applications in DeSoto County jumped to 5,093, the largest number ever done in a year there, Pickle said.
DeSoto County’s growth is evenly distributed across all classes of property.
“Our growth in this county is not due to any one specific item,” he said. “It’s all across the board in the five classes of property.”
That’s for owner-occupied dwellings (assess at 10 percent of true value), agricultural land and rental business (assessed at 15 percent of true value) and autos and public service utilities (assessed at 30 percent of true value), according to Johnson. To compute the ad valorem tax, the assessed value of a personal or real property is multiplied by the mill rate.
And with the Southeast United States as the fastest growing region, DeSoto County is seeing that same rapid growth, ranking 42nd in growth in the U.S., according to Pickle.
“People and businesses are coming from all over the country to DeSoto County,” he said.
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