John Henson isn’t mad, but he does want answers.
The Greenwood attorney appeared before the Leflore County Board of Supervisors on Monday on behalf of three farmers whose property taxes have risen, in some cases more than 300 percent, in the past year.
“We’re not saying Mr. Ware has made a misappraisement,” said Henson, referring to the county’s tax assessor, Leroy Ware. “But we’re asking the board to take this uncertainty under advisement. We’re not saying either of you is at fault.”
The tax increase that’s jolted farmers comes from an updated soil map used for the 2013 property tax assessments. According to Ware, the county has been using a 1959 soil map. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a federal agency, updated the soil map in 1993.
“During our last audit, we determined that our soil classes didn’t match the NRCS website,” Ware explained. “We were using the 1959 soil survey. So I informed the state we wanted a few years to get updated.”
He said this is the first year the 1993 soil survey has been used.
Henson’s clients, who include Solon Scott III of America’s Catch and Dan Hughes Jr. of Hughes Farms Inc., own farmland on property previously categorized as Class 5. For tax purposes, agricultural land is appraised based on use value instead of market value. Class 5 land in this part of the Delta has a use value of $125 per acre. According to the new soil map, that same land now has a use value of $617 per acre as Class 3.
Henson said there’s a discrepancy between the NRCS soil standards and those provided by the state. He asked the board to delay a vote on the property increase until the various agencies get their ducks in a row. The board voted to postpone discussion until next Monday, but Chancery Clerk Sam Abraham said the board could not wait too long because the deadline to approve the 2013 property rolls was approaching.
As Monday’s meeting continued, Ware met just down the hall with the farmers and Henson. The tax assessor returned at the end of the meeting to announce the conclusion the group had reached.
“They’re going to try to get NRCS to redo the samples of the land in question,” said Ware. “But I don’t think they’ll be able to get the surveys done by Monday.”
Abraham said that was OK, since an error in the property roll can be corrected later.
Also Monday, the board:
• Approved a public hearing for the Landing convenience store to be installed on Highway 82. The project is the first to be implemented with the newly anointed Tax Increment Finance program. The project, headed by local developer Channing Hodges, will employ 13 to 16 people in its first phase. Plans are to create between 69 to 84 full-time and part-time jobs by the second phase.
• Heard from Joe McCall, director of Our House, Inc., a local nonprofit that spreads information and education about domestic violence and abuse. McCall expressed the desire to get his curriculum into more county schools but repeatedly assured the board that he was not asking for anything. “I’m just here to make you aware of domestic violence and how serious the situation is,” he said.
• Heard from Ed Hargett, a consultant with the county’s adult detention center, who said the facility is in compliance with all American Correctional Association guidelines and can proceed with accreditation if it so chooses. Recently the facility implemented an alcohol and drug rehab program, and is looking forward to establishing a GED program, most likely by next spring.
• Admired a trophy brought in by the Delta Blaze intramural football team. The Blaze won the MFL Superbowl Saturday and asked for the board to continue supporting the team.
• Contact Jeanie Riess at 581-7235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A previous version of this article failed to explain that for tax purposes, agricultural land is appraised based on use value instead of market value.