published Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Lake Winnie tries again for tax break

  • photo
    Two people fly down a water slide at Lake Winnepesaukah's Soakya water park in this file photo.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Lake Winnepesaukah officials are hoping the second time is the charm for tax breaks in Catoosa County, Ga.

Last year the Catoosa County Commission approved a resolution that would reimburse Lake Winnie for sales taxes paid on materials used to build the Soak Ya water park. The move was ruled unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court.

With a more strenuous application process and new stipulations, Lake Winnie officials are trying again, and the county is in favor.

"The theory is if they couldn't qualify for these tax refunds, they probably would've never gone forward with the project," County Attorney Chad Young said.

At a recent meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to support the park as a Georgia Tourism Development Act project. If approved on the state level, Lake Winnie will be eligible for up to 10 years of sales tax refunds on revenues brought in by the park's expansion that would go to the cities and Catoosa County. The park still will pay the portion of sales tax that goes to schools.

"It's clear the state of Georgia is looking for future development, which will in turn bring tourist growth into the state through direct, indirect and induced revenue," said Tennyson Dickinson, a spokeswoman for Lake Winnie.

Young said that while tax breaks for existing businesses may seem counter-intuitive, especially after a recent 15 percent tax increase for residents, there are several benefits for the county. Those include increased property value, which brings in higher property taxes; new job creation and the attraction of more tourists to the area, he said.

"Hopefully those people will stop at restaurants and eat," he said. "You'll see an increase in sales tax from the people the park draws in."

So far, Soak Ya has been good for the park's revenue, Dickinson said.

"From Memorial Day to Labor Day, during that time our attendance grew by 17 percent," she said.

That by itself is a win for Lake Winnepesaukah and the county, but what's more significant is the fact that amusement park attendance was down as much as 20 percent or more across the Eastern Seaboard this summer, she said.

Email Rachel Sauls-Wright at rsauls@timesfreepress.com.

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