It wasn’t a complete win for Peachtree City councilmember Vanessa Fleisch when she presented the council with her idea for increasing the hotel/motel tax and working in conjunction with local facilities, the Peachtree City Visitors and Convention Bureau (CVB) and the Airport authority to promote sporting events within the city.
The proposal was to maximize the local economic development efforts by taking advantage of recent changes in the state law allowing cities to dedicate a full percent to capital improvements and maintenance of sports and recreation facilities that draw visitors.
Currently, the city collects a six percent hotel/motel tax from visitors staying locally. Two-thirds of that amount is disbursed to the CVB according to state law to promote tourism, conventions and trade shows. In turn, the CVB provides funding to the Peachtree City Airport Authority.
The recommendation was to raise the tax from six to eight percent.
In her presentation, Fleisch pointed out it took a year to reach consensus with all parties to use the city’s recreational facilities as an economic development tool.
“Though we’ve been hosting tournaments for years, there’s never been an active involvement by the city to promote any process to measure the impact to the city.”
“In October, the CVB asked Don Schumacher of the National Association of Sports Commissions to come and give a workshop on tournaments; he and his organization help their members to recruit good tournaments to their communities. Mr. Schumacher toured our facilities and so did the Atlanta sports council and they all agreed that our facilities were competitive and good enough to hold quality tournaments.”
She also embraced a recommendation for the city to form a sports council.
“It’s a good business to be in. No matter how bad the economy, parents want their children to compete and will come to see them.”
Fleisch pointed out that the Lacrosse tournament held in Peachtree City in June resulted in a $200,000 benefit to the city in a no-frills economic study.
“The recreation budget is $1.6 million. If you use this as a benchmark, it’s easy to see the impact only six tournaments can have. We’re not investing in any additional infrastructure. The only funding we need is for maintenance.”
With the current ongoing oversight and reorganization of the city’s recreation facilities, working together towards a common goal has resulted in an improvement to the city’s parks.
“Bainbridge, Ga recently spent millions building a recreation facility. We don’t have to do that. We only have to maintain what we have.”
Fleisch had already garnered support from area hotel operators, the airport authority and the Recreation and Special Events Advisory Board and the BMX Association for the increased tax.
Fleisch’s estimates for the eight percent tax of the estimated $1.1 million 2011 budget, gives the CVB two percent at approximately $284,600; the city’s general fund sees three percent, approximately $426,900; and an additional three percent is split between tourism production and development and funding for the CVB for operations and sales. The ultimate 50-50 split after disbursing funds to their various allotments is $569,200 for the city and for the CVB.
“So many good things have happened as a result of combined effort to use the occupancy tax as a way to fund our recreational facilities. I believe that the efforts to improve our existing facilities have already yielded dividends to our residents. All of the parks are looking much better today than they did a year ago. Even the skate board park is forming an association.
“As a result of the idea to use our recreation facilities as an economic tool, we have momentum to go on and do even more things. With your approval tonight this will be just the beginning of a new chapter of positive growth for Peachtree City.”
“The important thing I can see,” said councilman George Dienhart, “is that the hotels and motels are on board with this. Well done. Normally, no one would support a tax increase in a depressed economy, so they have to see this has some real value to them for them to sign on. It’s a no-brainer.”
“There’s a net benefit to the city, the airport authority, the CVB and the hotels support it,” noted councilmember Kim Learnard.
“This isn’t just an emotional response,” added Dienhart. “They’ve looked into making more money.”
Fleisch did point out that an additional sales person would need to be hired to handle coordination of the tournaments.
“It’s a win-win,” said councilman Eric Imker. “And it’s not a tax on citizens. It’s a tax on people visiting and staying in the city. I checked around the state to see how we stacked up and out of the 50 municipalities and counties I looked at, almost all were eight percent or higher. They know the value of income coming into areas and put into facilties and upgrades snowballs into additional revenue. That’s why the hotels are on board - they know they’re going to see an increase. I dont’ see a negative in this.”
The only opposition came from Mayor Don Haddix and his no vote killed the possibility of getting the tax increase, since there’s a tacit, but unwritten understanding there be a unanimous vote for approval of a tax increase according to the county’s legislative delegation.
“The reality is the city is receiving $569,000.00 into the general fund. There is no, and cannot be, any guarantee the city will spend $142,300.00 more on Recreation than it already does. Even if that were so, in the budget passed in 2013 the new council in 2014 is not bound to do so as well.”
Haddix also pointed to the city charter which said “Councilmembers shall work with the mayor in establishing city policies, drafting ordinances, handling budgetary matters, and addressing any other matters which come before city council in order to carry out the powers and responsibilities as enumerated in Sec.1.1.
“The first communication I saw on this proposal was when the packet was put on the web site. Therefore, this agenda item was done in violation of the City Charter.
“As well, all on Council know I did not support an increase in the Hotel/Motel Tax in the past and have stated I will not support any tax increases until we get our spending under control.”
Fleisch did manage to get the council’s approval to renegotiate the agreements with the CVB and Airport Authority for the distribution of funding, streamlining the process.