The city, Biloxi School District and Harrison County are asking to join a private developer’s lawsuit against Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, fearing he is trying to gobble up some of their tax revenue.
The lawsuit, filed in Harrison County Chancery Court, also could set precedent on who controls development along casino row in Biloxi.
Biloxi Lodging, owner of Margaritaville Resort, is suing Hosemann over a little more than an acre of land that is part of the grass field between Margaritaville, a family fun center and hotel, and The Blind Tiger restaurant.
Hosemann claims the state controls the property up to U.S. 90. Previously, the state has claimed only a sliver of the southern portion of the property, and signed leases based on that property line.
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Mississippi law clearly establishes that the state holds in trust for the public waterfront property that is subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. This is dry land. The Secretary of State’s Office manages the state’s tidelands, including lucrative leases with casinos.
“The mayor finds it appalling that (Hosemann) is using tidelands money that we generate to fight us for control of our waterfront,” city spokesman Vincent Creel said, sharing Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich’s opinion. “That’s what it’s about — control.”
If a judge agrees the state controls the land, it would be subject to city, state and county school taxes only if and when it is leased and developed. Also, Biloxi Lodging says it will seek a refund of previous taxes if Hosemann prevails.
Biloxi Lodging wants to put an amusement park on this property and surrounding land. But Hosemann has said he would market the property competitively as a casino site.
The land brought in about $60,000 in taxes last year.
Hosemann’s office has a similar dispute going with property owners to the west, on the former site of Lady Luck Casino and, before it, Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant.
“Biloxi is looking to protect its property rights and tax base,” city attorney Peter Abide said. “We do not think Secretary Hosemann can redraw the tidelands boundary line to now be Highway 90. The secretary of state is objecting to our participation.”
Hosemann said he had not seen the requests of the city, county and school district to intervene in the lawsuit and did not want to comment.
Hosemann has been embroiled in another lawsuit over waterfront property in Bay St. Louis and lost.
Staff Writer Mary Perez contributed to this report.