published Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Lake Winnie seeks water park tax break from Catoosa County

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.
  • photo
    Catoosa County Manager Mike Helton.
    Contributed Photo

Next summer, Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park plans to open a 5-acre water park attraction.

This week, the park's owners will ask officials in Catoosa County, Ga., to exempt them from sales and use taxes on the multimillion-dollar construction project.

The tax break is allowed under HB 386, Georgia tax reform legislation signed into law in April that lets projects of "regional significance" be exempt from state and local sales and use taxes.

"They're wanting to make a request related to that," Catoosa County Manager Mike Helton said.

Lake Winnie will make its pitch at 4 p.m. Monday to the Catoosa County Development Authority.

If the authority, which is an advisory body, approves the tax exemption, it will go to the county board of commissioners for final approval at its Tuesday meeting.

Lake Winnie spokeswoman Talley Green didn't return a call Friday seeking comment.

Park officials haven't put a precise price tag on the water park project, other than to say it's a multimillion-dollar expansion.

It will include a lazy river, flume body slides, a splash park and a lily pad attraction. After the initial 5-acre phase is built, Lake Winnie plans to add two more phases for a total of 15 acres. This is the largest expansion to the family-owned amusement park since the 1960s.

Helton couldn't predict how county officials will respond to Lake Winnie's request, but he said the water park should boost the local economy.

"If Lake Winnie builds a water park here, it's going to help the county," he said.

The Georgia Municipal Association estimates that, statewide, the construction materials sales tax exemption will cost local governments $44 million in lost revenue over its three-year lifespan.

In general, the municipal association opposes tax exemptions, said spokeswoman Amy Henderson, because there's scarce evidence showing tax breaks promote development.

"Are they doing what they're supposed to be doing?" she asked. "We haven't seen any studies showing [that]."

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties 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. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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