Lake Winnie seeks water park tax break from Catoosa County

Lake Winnie seeks water park tax break from Catoosa County

December 16th, 2012 by Tim Omarzu in Local Regional News

An aerial view of Lake Winnepesaukah park in Lakeview, Ga.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Mike Helton

Mike Helton

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]."