Tornado tax breaks planned

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town_tupelo_greenBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – The city plans to offer tax breaks for Tupelo residential and commercial property owners hit by the April tornado to encourage them to remain in the city and improve property values.

City Council members will likely vote today to approve a five-year tax abatement for all property owners who rebuild damaged or destroyed homes or businesses at higher assessed values than before the April 28 tornado.

Millions of dollars in property damage from the powerful twister has created concerns that the city could lose residents and businesses displaced or closed.

“If a $100,000 building was destroyed and you build back a $200,000 building, you’re taxed for $100,000,” Mayor Jason Shelton said.

These tax abatements do not include property taxes paid to the Tupelo Public School District.

This time-limited tax break follows efforts in neighborhoods and the North Gloster Street commercial area to protect property values from the uncertainty of vacant lots left from destroyed property.

The Joyner Neighborhood Association approved a neighborhood conservation overlay district to provide additional oversight to properties requiring construction permits, a move other neighborhoods impacted by the storm plan to follow.

The Joyner overlay district requires a five-member design review committee to approve construction plans prior to the city issuing permits necessary for property owners to rebuild.

Currently, no regulations exist related to rebuilding in impacted areas as long as construction meets zoning ordinances.

The overlay district will likely be approved by the council in July since the adoption process involves planning committee approval and a public hearing. However, the council will likely adopt an interim policy today for the city development services department to request property owners provide copies of construction plans prior to receiving necessary permits.

“If they don’t want to submit those right now, they don’t have to,” said City Attorney Ben Logan. “But we’re encouraging them to and getting staff ready for it.”

The city has waived construction permit fees related to tornado recovery.

North Gloster Street business owners, economic development and city officials participated in a charette Monday related to infrastructure and other improvements for areas impacted by the tornado. Other ideas included creating standards for new construction in the commercial area.

Debris uncertainty

While construction plans on damaged properties have started to ramp up, debris removal is another story. More than a dozen crews scattered throughout the city to remove tree limbs, housing materials and other debris are seeing less debris placed in city right-of-ways for collection.

After thousands of volunteers helped move debris to front yards as close to streets as possible, piles of debris remain in other parts of properties. Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis said private companies contracted for debris removal may take a hiatus.

“We’ll probably back off a little and let it gather,” he said.

City officials estimate 300,000-cubic-yards or more of debris from the tornado.

Another volunteer push is planned in a few weeks, likely followed by an intensified push for debris removal. City officials joined with other local governments to request approval from Mississippi and federal emergency management agencies for private property debris removal. However, city officials have turned less optimistic that Tupelo’s damage will meet the high threshold necessary.

With uncertainty about approval of the request, city leaders encourage property owners to move debris to front yards near the curb.

“If they have the means to get the debris to the street, they better do it,” said Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan, whose Joyner neighborhood home was destroyed. “We don’t know what MEMA or the federal government will do.”

robbie.ward@jounalinc.com