June 27, 2016 10:58:40 AM
The public will have two chances Thursday to gather more information about the Columbus Municipal School District's proposed tax increase.
The Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce and Golden Triangle Development LINK are partnering to hold an informational session for their members at 8 a.m. at Mississippi University for Women's Nissan Auditorium, and CMSD will host a public hearing at 5 p.m. at Brandon Central Services.
The proposed increases have sparked a wave of discussion among citizens and public officials. Thursday morning's session will allow members of the Chamber and the LINK Trust a chance to hear about the funding request and its implications from CMSD Superintendent Philip Hickman and Lowndes County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews. A Q&A session will follow.
In its initial tax request worksheet provided to Andrews on June 20, the Columbus Municipal School District asked for a funding increase of roughly $1.4 million, which equates to a millage increase of 7.35 mills. Millage for CMSD is currently set at 61.59 mills.
By the end of the two days of discussions, that request has been reduced to about $1 million more than last year, or an estimated 6.1 mill increase.
That increase would mean an increase in residential taxes of about $60 per $100,000 in assessed value for residences and $100 per $100,000 for business or rental properties.
Tax's role in industrial recruitment
LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins mentioned the informational session during a Thursday talk with the Columbus Light & Water board.
Higgins said the LINK won't take a stance on the proposed millage increase. But, he said it's important to understand that taxes are an important part of a larger picture to consider for attracting new economic development.
"Companies pick where they're going to go based on cost," Higgins said. "Utility costs are important, transportation costs are important and labor costs are important. So are taxes.
"Everything affects economic development," he later added. "Taxes, housing costs, land costs. All that kind of stuff effects economic development. We're going to watch this very closely.
Later in the meeting, board attorney Jeff Smith said taxes have been a hindrance in drawing new development to the city.
"It's really not Joe's fault or anybody's fault, but nothing has come to Columbus of any significance since 1978," Smith said. "If you remember Joe came last year and made a presentation about what's wrong, and (former board president Andrew Colom) said asked 'Why can't we get some development?' It really boiled down to a lot of things, but taxes."
Higgins did question what CMSD changed in the second request, which is about $1 million less than its initial funding request.
"They came down $1 million off the initial request," Higgins said. "Why was that in there? Was that in there because you needed it? Did you take something out you didn't? I want to know what you took out. Did you take it out because you needed it? Did you put in there knowing you were going to take it out so you could give something? Those are some of the questions we're going to ask."
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