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County administrator admits error in TIF taxes

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Jan. 4, 2001
Lauderdale County taxpayers will get a $160,544 refund of taxes collected in 1999 for construction of Bonita Lakes Mall but the refund won't come until after the start of a new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
The money comes from .46-mill tax levy used to help pay Tax Increment Financing bonds.
The Board of Supervisors earlier this week approved County Administrator Rex Hiatt's request to escrow the funds until they can be credited to 2001 taxes a solution recommended by State Auditor Phil Bryant in a letter he sent Hiatt.
Bryant's letter says, "While there is authority to issue this type of bonds, there is no authority to establish a tax levy to pay for the retirement of this debt."
TIF bonds are designed to be retired through ad valorem taxes paid by on-site merchants, not by private property owners.
The fiscal year 1999 levy went into effect in October 1998. Hiatt said a citizen questioned the .46 mills in April during a board meeting.
Hiatt said the refund will come in the form of a tax credit.
Bryant's letter says "approximately $162,000" was collected. Hiatt said his figure is the exact amount.
Residents Ruth Scott and William Hugh Johnson also questioned the millage in November during a public hearing about extending the boundaries of the South Frontage Road Super Wal-Mart area funded in part by the county's second and newest TIF bond.
They said the funds collected from the Bonita Lakes Mall levy should be refunded to taxpayers. Hiatt said then that the levy had been removed from the fiscal year 2000 budget, but he did not say the money would be refunded.
Hiatt said he does not foresee errors in the TIF process for the South Frontage Road Super Wal-Mart area.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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