COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – When union workers went on strike at Omnova Manufacturing almost three years ago, the Columbus community picked sides over who was right or wrong. Friday, weighed down by the strike and other costs, the plant eliminated the last 50 production jobs. The good jobs may be gone after 50 years but the plant’s negative impact on just about every Columbus pocketbook may last for years to come.
This year, Omnova will pay just over $700,000 in city, county and school taxes. Next year, that number will be about $157,000.
Lowndes County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews says, “When you’re losing $530,000 off of Omnova, it’s going to take close $23 million to make up that loss.”
To put that in simple terms, the city would have to attract about 15 new Longhorn steakhouses like the one that just opened to make up for the lost Omnova revenue. And the losses touch every phase of government.
Andrews says, “The Board of Supervisor would lose around $150,000, the Mayor and Council would lose around $160,000 and the Columbus Municipal School District would lose around 220 thousand for 2013 taxes.
The $160,000 equals about one mill on the city’s property tax rate and another for the school rate. The city could raise taxes to make up the loss. But that creates a vicious cycle of higher taxes that runs business off.
According to Andrews, “It’s hard to get someone to locate inside the city limits when you’re paying 144 mills. When you locate outside the city limits and pay 86.”
The Yorkville Road area once was the city’s property tax cash cow. Now it is becoming an albatross. Omnova has downsized, Airline Manufacturing is closed and Baldor moved to a new location, leaving what now is a huge concrete slab. An overcrowded road network makes the area a tough sell for some industries. But job recruiters say it has some benefits.
LINK C.E.O. Joe Max Higgins says, “Columbus Light and Water have a substation just north of the area, there is rail service and water and sewer is already in place.”
The city is working on a redevelopment authority that could build public-private partnerships to target the area . A long-range plan could make residential and apartment development the focus. But that also could take years. In the meantime, city leaders say they are trying to find new ways to do more with less to meet the demands of city taxpayers.