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By CARL SMITH
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Marvell Howard says heâs optimistic about the passage of a tax increment financing plan for the CottonMill Marketplace despite the boardâs postponement of a public hearing on the subject Monday.
The board postponed the hearing until developers are available to answer questions. No development representatives were in attendance during Mondayâs meeting, a fact public speakers and supervisors acknowledged throughout the hearing. A makeup date has not been decided, but Howard said the hearing would be held as soon as development representatives can attend.
âThere was a sort of mix-up in communications. I think the developers were under the impression that this (hearing) was a formality. (Since the meeting) Iâve been on the phone with (developer) Mark Nicholas, and heâs expressed he is more than willing to come down and answer any questions citizens might have,â Howard said after Mondayâs meeting. âI definitely think it will pass after (developers) have the opportunity to address those questions.â
The CottonMill Marketplace TIF proposal would help finance $8.5 million for infrastructure improvements over 15 years. If approved, the county would waive 95 percent of the developmentâs ad valorem taxes while school taxes would remain untouched. County Administrator Don Posey said the two amounts are limits, and the amount could be paid before the time limit is complete.
Before postponing the hearing, the board opened the floor to comments from the general public. Fred Allen, a local businessman with an accounting background, said the TIF financing package is a tax increase which would burden the county.
âWe want improvement in our county, but not as a burden,â he said. â(The board should) get the public to (vote on the TIF) like the way the county did with the hospital bond.â
Other public comments also highlighted tax-increase worries, but supervisors countered, saying taxpayers would not experience higher millage if the TIF is approved. If the project proceeds as planned, Mississippi State University is expected to lease property near the Highway 12 campus entrance to the developers for 40 years, Howard said. The development adds land to the county tax rolls, he said, a move which will increase property tax revenue.
âThe bond is used for economic development and job creation,â District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams said. âItâs misleading to call it a tax increase because the TIF just doesnât work that way.â
Howard said many states have used TIFs as a way to attract new developments in hypercompetitive business climates.
âIf not for tools like this, you wouldnât see a lot of growth. Attracting industry, jobs and economic development, itâs not a game of us saying, âLook at us ...ââ Howard said. âNow itâs âWeâre looking at your area; what do you have for us?â Our part of the game is (saying), âIf you build, weâll do what we have for other businesses.â Itâs extremely competitive now. Youâve either got to be willing to play the game or be left to the wayside. Our legislators understand that, and thatâs why we have this ability.â
District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson said developers for the shopping area located near the Highway 12 and Louisville Street intersection approached the board requesting a TIF about the same time discussions began on the CottonMill project. The money, time fame and scope of the project were all smaller than the CottonMill Marketplace development, but the board handled it in the same manner as the current situation.
âThis isnât the first time Oktibbeha County has handled (development) this way,â Jackson said. âIt turned around a shopping center that was on a downhill slide.â
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said while he believes the CottonMill project would make a significant economic impact on the county, he wants to hear from developers before deciding how to vote on the matter. Montgomery is currently serving his first year on the board and was not present for the previous boardâs discussion on the matter.
âIâm all for doing whatâs best for this whole county. There are some great advantages to this project â job creation, a broader tax base â but Iâd like to get more insight into this from the developers and organizers,â Montgomery said. âThereâs some doubt in the publicâs mind, but it would be great if (the developers) could come clear their questions up.â
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer was absent from Mondayâs meeting.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said he will be in attendance for the next public hearing to answer any citizensâ questions.
Wiseman, too, said he is still confident about the project and the positive impact it will have on the city and county.
âItâs a one-of-a-kind development, a potential game changer for this community. It would stand to be one of the largest ... private developments in the community,â he said.
The CottonMill Marketplace development project would also bring $12 million in state and federal grants for city improvements, Wiseman said. In addition to the nearby infrastructure improvements, a central parking garage would be constructed at the location with Community Development Block Grant funding. The project is also tied to a $3 million improvement project for Russell Street.
âThe project is in a very good position right now to be a great asset for the city of Starkville,â Wiseman said.