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State reps delay resolutions on hotel/motel tax

COVINGTON - State legislators have placed two prerequisites on the city of Covington before agreeing to present resolutions to the General Assembly that would increase the hotel/motel tax and designate alternative projects to be funded by the additional revenue should the proposed civic center project fall through.

State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, and State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, asked for a provision prohibiting use of the money on any project other than the civic center for a minimum of two years. Also, they asked the city to hold a public hearing to gauge public opinion on the hotel/motel tax increase.

The council agreed at its Monday night meeting to meet the prerequisites; a public hearing date has not yet been set.

Mayor Kim Carter said during a work session prior to the meeting that, "The real beauty of the hotel/motel tax is it's not taxing your citizens," noting that the burden of the tax increase would fall on out-of-town guests.

The council agreed in 2008 to increase the hotel/motel tax from 5 to 8 percent to help fund the civic center, which is proposed to be located next to the Newton County Administrative Building downtown. The $28 million project would also include a hotel and conference center.

In November, Carter said the project is on hold due to the economy.

Earlier this month, the council designated a list of alternative projects to benefit from the tax increase, while still pledging support for the civic center.

With 50 percent of the increase required to go to the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce for tourism efforts, the council agreed the remaining 50 percent should be divided as follows:

· 35 percent for railroad right of way acquisition as part of a larger plan to secure 38 miles of property for trails connecting Covington to Shady Dale, Monticello, Madison, Bishop, Watkinsville and Athens;

· 7.5 percent to the Hunter/Stallings Street corridor, a pedestrian corridor that will be developed between the historic courthouse, judicial center, history and civic centers, administrative building and parking deck;

· 2.5 percent to the Miracle Field, a baseball field that will serve special needs children;

· 2.5 percent for wayfinding signage to guide motorists to local attractions and amenities;

· 1.5 percent toward the conversion of the historic jail on Stallings Street into a history center;

· and 1 percent toward Chimney Park, a passive play area accessible to special needs children and families.

Both the tax increase and the list of projects it will fund must be approved by the Georgia General Assembly.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.