By Keith Burton – GCN Filed 1/26/08
GCN has been conducting a continued inquiry into the construction of the home of Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr since finding that the mayor received a Katrina Homeowner Grant in a house he purchased in 2003 but has never lived in.
The Homeowner Grant program requires recipients to live in their homes as their primary residence prior to hurricane Katrina August 29,2005. Since GCN’s publication of that story, there has not be a response by state officials with the Mississippi Development Authority, which administers the grant program, regarding Warr’s receipt of the grant. The MDA Homeowner Grant money could be as much as $150,000.
In looking further into the house, which is under renovation at 1814 Beach Drive, GCN has focused on the building permits on the property.
According to records provided to GCN from the City of Gulfport. Warr has received three permits on the property, two building permits and an electrical contractor permit. All were issued in 2007. City building officials tell GCN that all building permit records prior to the hurricane were destroyed. GCN had requested all building permits since 2003 on the property.
The permit documents show that on two of the permits, Warr paid no fees. The third permit filed by an electrical contractor, fees were paid. On one of the permits, which lists the contractor as Brent Warr, the signature block is unsigned and marked “drop off.” Officials said that indicates that someone “dropped off” the permit application at their office. The second permit shows a contractor with the signature field signed by the contractor.
But what is significant is that the two building permit documents provided to GCN show that the property owner is not Brent Warr, but the federal government, specifically, the documents identify the owner of the property as:
United States of America
The Warr home at 1814 Beach Drive was previously owned by the Armed Forces Retirement Home. The AFRH had purchased the property from the previous landowners around 2001. Warr acquired the property, according to his own statements to the Sun Herald, in February 2003. Warr later, in January 2004, filed the deed for the property at the county courthouse. The house has never been occupied the by Warrs, even to this day.
Researching the federal address, GCN found that at the time that the permits were acquired; the federal address listed on the permits was in the Department of Agriculture building in Washington DC. The office listed on the permits is with the the accounting office for the USDA's photography division. GCN contacted the office and a representative expressed surprise that their address was listed as they have nothing to do with property at the Armed Forces Retirement Home or any where else.
Gulfport officials in the permit office were asked about the incorrect address. GCN was told that the address was what the county computer records had on file and the address was inserted automatically into the permit forms. However, the county’s computers show that Warr owned the property. GCN later determined that the city of Gulfport’s computer system is likely using an out of date land records database. The county’s computers are not directly linked to the city’s computer.
Gulfport officials in the permit office told GCN that they make no effort to update the land ownership field in the permit even if the records are inaccurate.
When GCN asked why there were no permit fees charged or recorded on the permits on the Warr home, the explanation was that the permits were issued during a period when the fees were waived following Katrina. (Photo right: Warr home in April 2006)
However, in verifying that information, GCN found on the city’s website, a public notice that informed Gulfport residents that the waiver period for building permits ended March 1, 2007. The permits obtained for the Warr home were filed March 30, 2007 and on June 1, 2007, well after the deadline. The Warr permit documents show a blank line for fees.
In addition to the blank fees line on the permit forms, the Restrictions and Comments fields are also blank.
Gulfport’s schedule for building permit fees show that improvements valued at $100,000 would cost the property owner $420 dollars. Improvements beyond $100,000 are assessed at:
“Twenty-four dollars ($24.00) for the first one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) plus four dollars ($4.00) for each additional thousand or fraction thereof up to and including five hundred thousand dollars ($500, 000.00).
$500,001.00 and up.
Two thousand and twenty dollars ($2,020.00) for the first five
When building permits are filed, they are sent to the county tax assessor office which will then reappraise the property for property taxes based upon the changes and improvements. That process does not include property that is owned by the federal government. Property owned by the federal government is not assessed for taxes by the county.
However, GCN has seen county records that show that the property has been assessed and taxes paid by Warr on the unimproved home and land prior to the current unfinished renovation that began in 2007. County records show that Homestead Exemption has not been filed on the property as GCN reported in its earlier story.
To some readers, the issues surrounding Warr's building permits might be considered no big deal and only represent mistakes, outdated information by the city's permit office and general ineptness. On the other hand, these issues and others raise questions that are yet to be answered, GCN will continue to try.
Update: On February 14, 2007, the story over Warr's fees erupted in the Coast's news media where is became clear that he was under investigation by federal authorities. Federal investigators have subpoenaed city permit records to be submitted to a federal grand jury. The Sun Herald reports that Warr has paid $1,020 in building permit fees recently.
Warr's Building Permit - .jpg file
Warr's Contractor Permit - .jpg file
Gulfport Mayor Under Investigation by Federal Authorities -
Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr Defends Receipt of Homeowner Grant - Sun Herald 2/14/08