BY JOE B. COATES
Members of the Hazlehurst Board of Aldermen on Tuesday evening moved to aid a company with an economic development project that could create 35 jobs by August 1.
A. G. Helton, president of Action Properties of Yazoo City, presented the board with a plan to redevelop the old Walmart building that currently sits empty on the corner of Highway 28 and Lake Street. Action Properties has an option on the property from the current owner, whose health problems have deemed him unable to handle it.
Action asked the city for a seven year tax exemption on the improvements on the building, and was met with some concern from the board.
“We haven’t been asked to do this for anyone else before, at least since I’ve been on the board,” Alderman Shirley Sandifer said. “We have done things in the name of ‘economic development’ in the past, only to see the other party fall through on their end of the agreement. We need you to show us that this time is different,” she added.
Alderman Buster Pickering said his concern lies with the loss of tax revenue on the improvements – estimated to be around $40,000 per year – over the exemption period.
Action planned to create up to eight new spaces for retail stores after an extensive $1,000,000 renovation. Up to 35 jobs will eventually be created with an estimated annual payroll of just under $600,000, according to Henry Cody, vice president of development for Action.
The city’s take on sales tax revenue, estimated at $66,000 per year, would far exceed the tax exemption forfeiture, Cody said. In addition, the annual payroll will turn over an estimated six times in the local economy for a total impact of around $3.6 million annually.
“You and the people of Hazlehurst will be getting so much more in return for the investment,” Helton said.
For the exemption to even be considered, the board had to first pass a resolution creating a Business Improvement District which must include the area where the work will be done. On the advice of board attorney Olen Bryant the board created a district that stretches from Interstate 55 east to the railroad that includes the Hwy. 28 corridor on either side. Pickering was the lone nay vote on the final resolution, which had been amended once.
In the resolution, the alderman clarified that only structures which are vacant and in dilapidating condition were to be considered for any similar actions in the future. Any and all requests will be taken on a case-by-case basis, according to the wording of the resolution.
After a brief period of discussion in the open session, the board voted 4-1 to grant and exemption of three years – a compromise from an earlier motion of seven years, which was voted down 2-3 – to Action Industries. Pickering, once again, was the lone nay vote in the amended resolution.
Both actions will require approval from the MS State Tax Commission, attorney Bryant said, but he forsees the department as having no problem with the actions, he added.
Mayor Henry Banks advised the group that they could come back at any time after the project was completed and request an extension of the exemption.
The board took the following additional agenda actions:
• Gave permission to the Hazlehurst Chamber of Commerce to close a portion of Ragsdale Avenue for a festival in October;
• Granted a parade permit to the Prayer Warriors Relay for Life team and granted permission to use the courthouse square for a bike parade this month;
• Granted a six month building permit extension for Waffle House;
• Raised the pay of poll workers for the upcoming and future municipal elections for $125 for one day;
• Approved the request of alderman Sandifer to write Amtrak requesting a shading structure for train passengers at the pick-up point near the Depot;
• Declared a wood chipper as surplus and authorized a legal advertisement for bids on the equipment;
• Authorized the mayor to sign an interlocal agreement with the county that will expedite approval for a grant for two new high band radios that will allow better communications during weather crises, periods of civil unrest and any other civil defense needs;
• Approved a request by police chief Byron Swilley to purchase a new computer server after the department’s main server crashed last week;
• Approved the advertisement of rehabbing the John Street water tank with the appointment of Wagonner Associates as engineers. Sandifer and Jones voted nay;
• Granted a 90-day extension for a property owner to finish removing a dilapidated structure and have the property cleaned to standards;
• Authorized the drilling of two test wells on private property on Nelson Drive and Whitworth Street, respectively, with the city to pay costs and reimburse property owners as agreed.
The board approved March claims totaling $745,285.51 and authorized Mayor Banks to sing an application with the Mississippi Office of Pollution Control on a grant matter before adjourning until May 5.