published Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Lake Winnepesaukah clears Catoosa County tax hurdle

An aerial view of Lake Winnepesaukah park in Lakeview, Ga.
An aerial view of Lake Winnepesaukah park in Lakeview, Ga.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

RINGGOLD, Ga. — Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park took a step Monday afternoon toward getting an estimated $85,050 tax break from Catoosa County, Ga., for the construction of a five-acre water park.

The Catoosa County Development Authority unanimously gave its endorsement for the tax abatement after husband-and-wife Tommy and Tennyson Dickinson, members of the family that owns Lake Winnie, predicted the new water park would generate $102,980 in county sales tax in its first year -- meaning the county would net $17,930 after the tax break.

"Most things take years to pay back," Tommy Dickinson told the economic authority board. "This is a net plus in the first year."

Over five years, the county would see a net gain of $1.2 million in sales taxes even after the initial tax break that would last six months to a year, Tommy Dickinson said.

He based those figures on a financial impact report prepared for the park by William Legg, who teaches economics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Lake Winnie seeks the tax abatement under HB 386, a new Georgia law that lets projects of "regional significance" be exempt from state and local sales and use taxes.

Tennyson Dickinson said that according to an analysis of park visitors' ZIP codes, 26 percent of visitors come from beyond 60 miles away.

"We are trying to become more regional and less local," she said.

Before the development authority endorsed the tax break, board member Scott Smith said the authority had an obligation to help existing businesses, along with attracting new ones.

"It's a one-time abatement," Smith said. "There will be some jobs created."

The water park is due to open by Memorial Day and will create 55 new seasonal jobs and one to three new permanent jobs, the Dickinsons said.

Next step today

Now that Lake Winnie has the development authority's blessing, its next step will be to seek approval from the county board of commissioners, which meets at 6 p.m. today in Ringgold.

If the county board OKs the request for a 3 percent break, or $85,050, in local property taxes, state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, will ask the legislature to waive the state's 4 percent share of property taxes, the Dickinsons said.

"He did not want to take it to the state without the county's approval," Tennyson Dickinson said.

Lake Winnie plans to spend $6.3 million to build the water park.

"We are trying to do this in a first-class manner, so dollars are very, very precious," Tommy Dickinson said. "This is an almost 88-year-old family business. It's never asked anything of anybody."

Park visitors will pay one price for one ticket that will include access to the water park and the existing rides. That should encourage more visitors when the temperature ranges to 100 degrees, Tommy Dickinson said.

"If you get hot -- go over to the water park," he said.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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