Meridian Star

January 6, 2013

Downtown developers seek county tax break

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Developers of some downtown property will ask the county for a tax exemption on Monday when the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors meets.

    David Kelly, with Chartre Companies Ltd., of Oxford met with supervisors on Thursday during a work session, asking for a resolution of intent stating that the county will grant a tax exemption when the company completes work on the former BellSouth building.

    Chartre Companies Ltd. is planning to convert the old BellSouth building at 701 23rd Ave. into a 26-unit apartment building.

    Kelly described the units as "high-end, market rate apartments" that will vary in size, from 450 square feet to about 1,200 square feet.

    The tax-exemption sought would be just for the value of improvements on the property, which Kelly estimated will cost about $4.5 million; of which 20 percent will be invested by Chartre. The exemption will be for seven years and the company will still pay school taxes on all of the value, as there are no exemptions on school taxes.

    The property, which is currently owned by the city of Meridian, is said to be worth approximately $120,000, but will be appraised before a sale.

    "We want to do something downtown," Kelly said. "We want to be a part of what's taking place, so we've been studying it for several months. We're actually prepared to move."

    County attorney Rick Barry explained the motion the board will be asked to vote on.

    "All you would be doing Monday," Barry said, "would be granting a resolution of intent to move forward with that. The actual exemption of that would be when they complete the project."

    Hank Florey, District 1 Supervisor, questioned whether the county should grant a tax exemption.

    "I'm worried about the county and the seven years — having to wait seven years before we have a revenue stream," Florey said, asking how other apartment building owners would feel about a company getting an exemption.

    "If they are downtown and willing to take the risk," Kelly said, "I'd say they ought to get it as well."

    But for companies that have been here for 40 years and pay taxes, Florey asked, what should his response be when someone asks him why an apartment building should get a tax break?

    "The question is real easy to answer," Kelly said "RIght now you don't have anything generating taxes there. The building is off the tax rolls. From day one we'll be paying school taxes."

    Kelly indicated that the project is something of a risky investment for Chartre Companies.

    "This isn't a situation downtown right now where you have people standing in line waiting for places to rent downtown," Kelly said. "We're going to have to spend money to entice people to get people down here. We believe that it is worth the risk — that it's going to be the kind of place people want to be once you create the synergy."

    The building was built during the turn of the century era by the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Service, so the company will name it Cumberland Terrace. Chartre Companies is owned by Clarence Chapman, a Meridian native who now lives in Oxford.

    The board is expected to vote on the tax exemption request on Monday.

    The Meridian City Council recently approved a resolution of intent for a tax abatement for the project.

    Also on Monday, newly elected county officials will be sworn in at 9 a.m. in the board room of the Raymond P. Davis Annex building on Constitution Avenue.

    The five Election Commissioners and two new county school board members will be sworn in. All of them were elected or reelected in November.

    Election Commissioners are: District 1, Wallace Heggie, the incumbent, ran unopposed; District 2,  Evelyn Acklin, is new. Acklin took Rod Amos’s place when he did not run again and she was unopposed; District 3, Awana Daniels Simmons, the incumbent, ran unopposed; District 4, Gloria Dancy, was appointed last January to complete Reuben Little’s term when he retired due to his health. She also ran unopposed; District 5, Jeff Tate, the incumbent, ran unopposed.

    Lauderdale County School Board members to be sworn in are: District 3, Pam Lackey Frazier, the incumbent, was unopposed; and District 4, Fredie Carmichael, a new member ran unopposed when the incumbent, Scott Sollie, did not run again.