Thursday, April 16, 2009
Show us the jobs, supervisors say
By SUE WATSON
With ad valorem tax exemption applications for industry up for review and approval by June, the Marshall County Board of Supervisors took a harder look than usual at industries that say they have added jobs, one requirement for exemptions.
The board questioned the tax assessor and Bill Mobley, executive director of the county Industrial Development Authority, on each application that was reviewed by the tax assessor’s office, stopping after reading five applications to table the review until supervisors have time to make closer inquiries. The tax assessor verifies real property purchases and the IDA collects the applications from industries and makes recommendations to the board of supervisors.
Supervisor Keith Taylor asked to table the entire package of applications for a week while supervisors and others can scrutinize companies that say they created at least 10 new jobs and spent $250,000 or more on industrial improvements, the minimum requirements for a tax exemption.
Supervisors also learned they may allow the tax exemption from year-to-year or deny it altogether at their own discretion.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said he wants verification new jobs are created and people are on the payroll rather than rubber-stamp an application.
Taylor suggested some companies hire the minimum number of people until their tax exemption is approved, then lay the workers off. Other companies are only working a few days a week so the new jobs created may not be full-time, he said.
Supervisor George Zinn III said the board would have to request verification of new jobs created by a show of the company’s payroll before and after the improvements were said to have been made.
Bill Bryant, county tax consultant for the assessor’s office, agreed the county could do that.
“Y’all have the right to do that,” he said. “The assessor’s office does not want to get into it. The board has the authority.”
“I want to make sure the companies are being truthful,” Taylor said.
“It’s going to take more than their word,” said Bennett. “They are going to have to show us (the jobs), because everyone of us supervisors gets 10 calls a day from people wanting a job.
“I want them to show us there are that many people working there.”
He said Marshall County residents were not getting (tax) justice if they have to pay the difference in the taxes that industry does not pay.
“They need to sustain these employees all year,” Bennett said.
“The bottom line is, we’re the final word on this,” said Taylor.
“I want them to bring us something, some paper work,” Bennett added.
Mobley added, “It’s their company and they can give their own explanation. The ad valorem tax exemptions are at your pleasure.”
Taylor complained that he has gone out to some plants to see if they are working and they are closed a day a week or more. The vehicles in some parking lots at plants are filled with out of county or state licenses, he said. Taylor believes the new jobs created should go to Marshall County residents if they are qualified for the job.
“They give jobs to people outside the county when people of Marshall County need work,” he said.
Mobley reminded supervisors that at times Shelby County, Tennessee, wanted to tax commuters from Mississippi.
“Shelby County has wanted to tax people working from Mississippi for years,” he said. “The requirements for CDBG jobs, as soon as a grant is closed out they can fire or lay off workers. It's the same thing on the tax exemption. You can hire them, get the exemption and then fire them or lay off.”
Bennett said the county should monitor new industries and not give them the full 10-year tax exemption if they lay-off workers after the first year’s approval.
Mobley explained that the applications for tax exemptions go to the state tax commission for ultimate approval and that the commission usually “rubber-stamps” what you send them. He said the rules in state law were written by the state development authority. He said his office passes on the information given to the IDA by the industries but that the board can ask the industry representatives to come before the board themselves with their applications.
Bennett reiterated that he just wants to know that the jobs said to have been created should be shown to be there and if the new hires are laid off, the tax exemption should “stop right there.”
“It all falls into the taxpayer’s pocket,” Bennett said. “If we give it, why can’t we take it away from them?”
Mobley suggested the law be researched carefully.
“How much trouble is it to monitor these exemptions yearly?” asked Bennett.
“I’m not sure the law allows that,” said Mobley.
Bryant reminded the board, “We don’t have that authority. We are just a tax office.”
“We (IDA) have no authority to check these folks,” Mobley said.
“Who has authority,” Taylor asked. “Could IDA make sure they meet their requirements?”
Tax collector Betty Byrd clarified the issue, saying the law does not require counties or cities to give a 10-year exemption.
“You can look at it yearly and it can be given up to 10 years or grant it a year at time if you wish,” she said.
“It’s our job and the board keeps overlooking it,” Taylor said. “The board is supposed to oversee it.”
Board watcher George Kahrs added his opinion and insight.
“If you look at transfers of industries from Fayette County to Marshall County to DeSoto County, they are going to go where they get the best exemptions,” he said. “I agree, they should have to prove it and we should look at it every year.”
“That exemption you are giving, you are fixing to make that up on the taxpayer of Marshall County,” Bennett said.
“But, I do understand, you have to be qualified to get the job,” Taylor said.
Bennett said the board is “fixing to give you (Mobley) the responsibility to look at it.”
Taylor insisted that a business in Byhalia had been given a 10-year exemption then changed its business name so it could apply for another 10-year exemption.
“I do understand they (industry) will threaten to leave,” he said.
Kahrs added, “You should say this year you are not eligible because you have laid off those people (hired for the exemption), but if they do leave, you've lost their ad valorem taxes anyway.”
Mobley suggested setting up a working group to look at the industries and the issues and to bring back the information and to table the matter for a while.
“You have until June to get it done,” he said. “It’s not like we've gotta do something today. I don't mind asking these companies to come and bring paper work and show us.”
“The buck stops here,” said Bennett. “We’re responsible for everything to go through.”
“It could be an incentive for companies to keep their employees,” Byrd added.
With that, Taylor motioned to table the matter until further study and supervisor Eddie Dixon seconded. The motion passed unanimously.
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