COVINGTON - County officials have started discussions on whether to allow a private entity to run Gaither Plantation.
Chairman Keith Ellis told commissioners at their strategic planning mini-retreat last week that two private individuals are interested in operating the county-owned facility.
The county lost at least $27,000 on Gaither last fiscal year, Ellis said. Ellis said he wants to find a way for the facility to break even or make money for the county. Commissioners identify additional revenue sources as part of their budget strategic planning and commitment to lower the millage rate within two years.
“Obviously this is one of the crown jewels of the first district and Newton County,” said Commissioner John Douglas. “At some point, this place has got to start making money or we’ve got to do something with it because we can’t afford to just carry it along losing money every year.”
Douglas noted Gaither will be water front property when Bear Creek Reservoir is built, which will “enhance its value even more.”
“It’s got a lot of great potential. Like a lot of other areas in the county, we’ve got to see what we can do to make it work because if it doesn’t work, at some point I think we’ve got to cut the cord,” he said.
Commissioner Nancy Schulz said, “It seems to me like we’re encouraging private enterprise, which to me is better than us operating it and competing with the private sector. I have a real problem with us competing with the private sector. I always have.”
Schulz said if the county opts to go that route, she wants to make sure Gaither would not have an unfair advantage over competitors, like Burge Plantation. “If we’re going to engage with them, it needs to be a level playing field,” she said.
Douglas agreed. “Burge is in the first district as well,” he said. “If we get this thing going, we’re not going to to subsidize it because wer’re not subsidizing Burge. That would give Gaither a terribly unfair advantage and put Burge out of business probably.”
Jenny Carter with the County Attorney’s Office said officials would need to decide their vision for Gaither and make sure it is compatible with the reservoir and the required buffers, and then put out a formal Request for Proposals.
Ellis said commissioners will have a work session at some point to discuss the proposals further.
Gaither used to be the site of several festivals and a popular filming location, but activity at the plantation has decreased over the years. The house, garden, pavilion and Harris Springs Church are available to rent for weddings and other events.