By Chuck Bailey
The Choctaw Plaindealer
Equalization is the process that counties go through in the month of August throughout the state of Mississippi to insure that there is equity in their tax rolls.
Once the tax assessor, Lori Kerr files the assessment rolls with the Choctaw County Board of Supervisors the first Monday in July, the board is then responsible by law to make sure all assessments are equitable. After equalizing the rolls, the board opens them up for public inspection.
The board of supervisors then acts as a board of equalization in hearing assessment appeals at the August meeting. That meeting was Monday, August 8 at 9:00 am, but technically it is the entire August term of the Choctaw County Board of Supervisors, and one reason why they meet every Monday in August.
After Kerr delivers the tax rolls to the board on or before the first Monday in July, any changes to an assessment must be made by the Choctaw County Board of Supervisors. Any taxpayer dissatisfied after the August assessment hearings may appeal the decision of the board to the circuit court. In case of such an appeal, the suit is filed against the Choctaw County Board of Supervisors.
Choctaw County is currently in litigation with the NRG gas fired power plant in French Camp over 525.4 million dollars in true value. NRG contends that it should be 360 million. NRG filed for a $16 million reduction in true value for the 2015 tax year for functional obsolescence with regards to a turbine that is not operable and Kerr as tax assessor granted the filing.
Southern Company purchased the coal-fired power plant from Choctaw Generation and soon after their purchase requested a 101.9 million dollar reduction in true value of the 551.9 million dollars in true value for the 2015 tax year. Kerr granted their request reducing the plants true value to exactly 450 million dollars. She gave us the following statement with regards to her reason for the reduction.
“In 2014, The Choctaw County Board of Supervisors substantially increased the total taxable costs for the Choctaw Generation (Southern Company) power plant from the $407,224,156 value used in 2013 to $ 525,006,064, said Kerr. “They based this increase on the addition of indirect costs, which had not been included under the fee-in-lieu arrangement with the taxpayer, which had expired as of January 1, 2014. In 2015 the Southern Company vigorously opposed the board’s increase of the true value. The 2015 true value was reduced based on contentions by Southern Company that the indirect costs included by me in the total taxable costs were excessive and that there was substantial obsolescence associated with the coal-fired power plant. The County was not in a lawsuit at the time I granted the reduction, but Southern Company was represented by a lawyer who significantly participated in the negotiations, which ultimately led to adoption of the $450,000,000 true value for the power plant. The $101,911,998 reduction to true value was an adjustment negotiated with the taxpayer to settle taxpayer assertions of a typical indirect costs which are not taxable and obsolescence, which prevented certain litigation.”
The Choctaw County Board of Supervisors also significantly increased NRG’s true value in 2014 from 467.2 million dollars to 575.9 million.
During August 22 Choctaw County Board of Supervisors meeting District 5 Supervisor Eric Chambers sought to get the true value reductions for NRG and The Southern Company from 2015 by Kerr put back on the tax rolls.
In a long explanation of his motion Chambers made the following assertions.
“As you well know one year ago at this equalization meeting, same as the meeting we are in today the tax assessor reduced Choctaw Generation (Southern Company) true value by 101,911,998 dollars, said Chambers. As well as NRG in French Camp was reduced by 16 million dollars. My motion today is to put Choctaw Generation back on the tax roll adding back the 101, 911,998 dollars in true value. Also, with NRG adding back to their true value 16 million because they have a generator on the premises that is not being taxed. The reason being is the equalization process that the law requires us to do. You’re looking at about 1.3 million dollars in tax revenue that has not been equalized to the people.”
District 2 Supervisor, Greg Fondren, seconded the motion.
District 3 Supervisor, Chris McIntire said, “I’m going to say you about done lost your mind, but if your asking for a lawsuit, that’s what your asking for.“
“And I can tell you, they not going to leave my name out,” said Kerr. “They are going to sue me to.”
“Let me say this,” said McIntire. “She’s the tax assessor, she’s done been school, she’s certified by the state to assess property. There ain’t nobody at this table qualified to do that. She’s done done it, not only has she done it, all the experts that we’ve hired that works with her has done it. Now y’all want to say they haven’t done their job and go against it. This is ridiculous.”
“If we do for one, we got to do for all of them,” said Fondren.
“Greg you don’t understand what you just did,” said McIntire. You should have asked that question while the lawyer was on the phone.”
McIntire was referring to an executive session the board went into earlier in the meeting to discuss litigation with NRG.
“What about discrimination,” questioned Chambers? “TVA and NRG have not had any reduction in soft costs or obsolescence.”
“TVA is not going to,” said Kerr. “It’s government.”
Referring to the TVA gas fired power plant whose true value is around 390 million but have had their soft cost of approximately 100 million waved as part of there in lieu agreement with the county. TVA is in year eight of a ten year in lieu agreement and when the soft costs are added back to the true value, the total true value should be at around 500 million in the next couple of years.
TVA pays in lieu approximately $4,676,128. Of that amount Choctaw County gets 51.8 percent and the Choctaw County School District gets 48.2 percent.
“I need to know where y’alls certifications are for assessing property,” questioned McIntire, referring to Chambers and Fondren. ”Y’all both got schools and done got educated on assessing property. My blood pressure has about to have blown smooth up.”
“Chris (McIntire) just let it alone,” said Kerr. “Just let them screw their own county.”
“No, I just don’t believe in discriminating against one another,” said Chambers.
The motion was then put to a vote and lost by a 2-3 margin with Chambers and Fondren voting for the motion. McIntire, District 1 Supervisor and Board President, Joey Stephenson and District 4 Supervisor, John Shumaker voting nay.
The Choctaw County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget and the proposed tax levies for the 2016-2017 fiscal year Thursday, September 8 at 10 a.m. in the Board Room of the Choctaw County Courthouse. The public is invited to attend.