Bay eyes ‘Go Zone’ incentives

Bay St. Louis officials are working on details of an economic package intended to attract large-scale new businesses by offering tax breaks or other incentives to companies that locate, build, and hire employees in the city.

Establishing “Go Zones” to lure hotels, large retailers or other businesses is a necessary step for a city that has seen precipitous drops in property taxes, population, and sales tax collections since Hurricane Katrina, city officials said.

Finite details of the plan have yet to be worked out. But during a City Council workshop Monday, officials indicated the plan would be geared to large commercial projects, including big-box retailers and hotel-motels. Projects in the $1 million or higher range would likely be sought.

Gulf Opportunity Zones have been authorized across the Gulf Coast in areas that were affected by Katrina and Hurricanes Rita and Wilma. Hancock is among the Mississippi counties where GO Zones are allowed.

In the case of Bay St. Louis, qualifying new businesses could be forgiven for property taxes for a specific period, perhaps as long as seven years.

The size of the tax breaks allowed could depend on several factors, including amounts invested and numbers of employees hired.

“I would think very strongly about not applying it to anything but very significant construction,” Mayor Les Fillingame told council members.

The council has tentatively drawn a list of 12 possible GO Zone sites scattered throughout the city, sometimes with several located in a singe ward. But City Attorney Donald Rafferty said the list is too long.

“We know it’s not going to happen,” he said, requesting that the list be whittled down.

The administration and council agreed that a prime potential GO Zone location would be the corridor at Interstate 10 and Mississippi 603, where few businesses currently exist. Officials intend to keep working on the plan and come up with an acceptable formula.

“The most important thing about doing something like this is that you don’t hurt the folks who are already here” by giving new businesses unfair advantages, Tax Assessor-Collector Jimmie Ladner, Jr. said.

No matter how the final plan evolves, officials agreed, a GO-Zone program is long overdue to attract businesses.

“They’ve got to have something, to walk into the bank and make a million-dollar loan, or a $500,000 loan,” Council President Wendy McDonald said.

“We can’t just sit here and hope they come,” Councilman Joey Boudin said.

By J.R. Welsh
The Sea Coast Echo

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