Conyers scores win on hotel tax

CONYERS - The General Assembly passed a bill last week that will allow Conyers to raise its hotel/motel tax in an effort to fund improvements at the Georgia International Horse Park.

House Bill 302 passed both chambers of the General Assembly and Gov. Sonny Perdue is expected to sign the bill into law soon. The bill was sponsored on behalf of the city by Rep. Robert Mumford, R-Conyers, with support from Reps. Randal Mangham and Pam Stephenson, two Democrats from Decatur.

The House voted 123-31 in March to approve the bill. Sen. Ronald Ramsey, D-Lithonia, navigated the bill through the Senate, which voted 43-3 for approval.

The measure failed last year to get out of the House Ways and Means Committee when concerns were raised from tourism officials about repercussions the legislation could have on other areas of the state.

This year, however, the bill received support from those officials, along with the local hotel/motel industry.

The measure will allow Conyers to increase the tax from 6 to 8 percent. City officials said they need the additional revenue to fund economic development projects focused on improvements and upgrades to the Horse Park.

The increase in the tax is expected to produce approximately $200,000 annually in additional income, city officials said.

Conyers invested about $2 million two years ago to construct an additional permanent barn and a multi-use building at the GIHP, both of which were needed in order to keep the facility an attractive venue for major equestrian events.

At the City Council's annual work retreat earlier this year, GIHP Director Jennifer Bexley told councilmen that in order to maintain its attraction as a top facility, additional expansion would ultimately be required, such as an indoor arena and a climate-controlled building.

In 2000, the city bumped up the hotel/motel tax by 1 percent and earmarked that money for maintenance and operation of the Big Haynes Creek nature center at the Horse Park.

Located on a 155-acre tract in the GIHP that includes 50 acres of wetlands, that money helped the Nature Center get off the ground with the construction of a pavilion and canoe launch at the wetlands and walking trails.

According to figures released by state officials who monitor tourism, Rockdale County received $104 million in tourism revenue in 2006, with $50 million of that figure being attributed to events associated with the GIHP.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.