By Rupert Howell
Attorney Bill McKenzie informed supervisors Tuesday that the county is being sued for back taxes paid at the land sale auction for the embattled Rolando Foods property in Crenshaw.
“The bidder wants their money back. They came to the sale and bought,” said the attorney while estimating the amount between $35-45,000.
Oak Investment Co. claims the tax sale is void since the county is not able to “personally serve Rolando, send certified mail to Rolando, and to publish notice . . .”
The suit also claims the Chancery Clerk may have failed to make proper certified notations in the tax sale book. . .”
Judgement is sought to set aside the tax sale and order the Tax Collector and Panola County to pay the plaintiff $16,768.16.
McKenzie was given permission to fight the lawsuit responding, “We’ve got to answer. They’ve already sued.”
The Rolando saga has gone on for the last decade.
Acting on behalf of the county, the late supervisor Robert Avant who had served as president of the Panola County Board of Supervisors pursued an agreement with Roland Butler that would give him an empty county-owned plant in Crenshaw in exchange for jobs. Supervisors gave Butler the plant in August, 2006,
McKenzie cautioned supervisors about the give away back then, saying he didn’t want to “sugarcoat” the deal.
“I just want to make it clear: if they take the building and promise jobs and don’t do it, there’s nothing you can do about that,” McKenzie said.
Butler continued to make empty promises and there were other mortgages, most particular a $1.4 million loan, and tax liens.
The building has sat idle since it was sold although it was spruced up shortly after Butler acquired it.
According to a August 2009 The Panolian story by Billy Davis, “On his deathbed, Mr. Avant had made Butler promise to open Rolando in job-starved Crenshaw, according to Butler.”
In July of 2009 supervisors demanded an accounting of how he spent a $1.4 million loan with he and supervisors jousting about broken promises of creating jobs. That demand was never met.
“You’ve given us 19 different dates when you would open,” then board president Gary Thompson told Butler in the 2009 news story. Butler would later announce the business would open within 90 days.
In the earlier years Attorney McKenzie had advised the board that notice had been given to Panola County as mortgage holder of the Rolando Foods Building in Crenshaw, that approximately $30,000 was needed to be paid to redeem the building from an upcoming tax sale.
“In the past, somebody has stepped in and paid it at the last minute,” Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock advised supervisors.
Then board president Kelly Morris summarized the feeling of the board when he suggested out loud, “(Let’s) just hold off and see what happens.”
Curtis Bottling, Inc. of Maryland paid past-due property taxes for two years for the still-unopened Rolando Curtis Foods plant in Crenshaw in 2011.
The last-minute payments for 2008 and 2009 were made just days before land sales for delinquent taxes commenced.
A tax deed for the industrial property in Crenshaw would have gone to High Sierra Tax Sale Properties, which paid the 2008 taxes, if Curtis Bottling had not paid the taxes.
Unpaid taxes “mature” after three years and High Sierra could have requested a tax deed after the maturation date came August 31 former reporter Billy Davis wrote in 2011.
And it has been like that since, with speculators paying the delinquent taxes on property nobody seems to want.
Although promised jobs were never created, taxes have sporadically been paid throughout the years.
Now, one of those speculators wants their money back.
By Rupert Howell