Panola County Board of Supervisors

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Supervisors OK GE tax abatement

By Billy Davis

The three-year-old GE Aviation plant in Batesville is set to employ 500 workers by 2013, making a recently granted tax exemption a “no-brainer” for Panola County government.

“When you consider the size of its workforce, it really was a no-brainer for them,” Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons said of the Board of Supervisors.

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The county board unanimously approved a 10-year tax exemption for machinery and equipment, and a separate tax exemption for inventory, at its June 13 meeting in Batesville.

A corporate attorney for GE made the request before the Board of Supervisors.

The tax exemptions will save GE Aviation approximately $289,800 annually, said Bill Bryant, a longtime tax consultant for Panola County government.

The tax exemptions do not include tax payments to South Panola public schools, which are $213,900 annually, according to Bryant.

Bryant was present at the board meeting where he presented supervisors both sides of any debate over the tax abatement: the exemption represents an annual loss of more than $280,000, though GE Aviation distributes an annual payroll of approximately $15 million.

Simmons, who was not present at the meeting, said GE Aviation is building its workforce toward a maximum employment of 500 by the end of 2012, with an annual payroll of $18 million.

Starting pay for hourly workers is between $30,000 to $40,000 annually, according to Simmons.

The Batesville plant is presently expanding onto the rear of its already-cavernous 300,000-square-foot building, located along Highway 6 East.

“It’s customary on large projects to grant tax exemptions. It’s just expected,” said Simmons, who worked for the state’s Miss. Development Authority before coming to Batesville.

“You’re not going to get them without granting exemptions,” he said. “They’ll go somewhere else.”

The GE Aviation plant has $9 million in machinery and equipment, and $14 million in inventory, according to Bryant.

Asked if those investments lead other industries in Panola County, Bryant said: “I can answer that real quick. The answer is yes.”

Bryant said Crown Cork & Seal “comes close,” though equipment there has depreciated over time to show a larger gap.

Mississippi law allows industries such as GE Aviation and Crown to get a one-time 10-year exemption.

“After that they cannot come back (for an exemption). It’s not legal,” said Bryant.