Polk rafting tax awaits Haslam ink

Polk rafting tax awaits Haslam ink

March 23rd, 2011 Paul Leach/Correspondent in News

BENTON, Tenn. - Polk County's latest rafting tax initiative scored 30-1 and 88-0 victories in the Tennessee Senate and House, respectively.

If Gov. Bill Haslam signs it, the tax will be implemented in the 2012 rafting season, in accord with amendments sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.

"The outfitters have already started taking reservations on their trips for the season," County Executive Hoyt Firestone said.

The fee is the county's attempt to recoup costs related to emergency and law enforcement services provided to the Ocoee rafting industry.

The recent amendment to the original 1981 private act calculates the per-customer fee by taking the total applicable emergency service and law enforcement costs provided by the county and dividing that by the number of rafting customers of the current year and applying it to next year's business. The fee may not exceed 50 cents and will be recalculated each fall.

Earlier this year, leading members of the Ocoee River Outfitters Association had expressed concern about being notified of the rafting fee during meetings with county commissioners while discussing rafting tax methodology and transparency.

According to Bell's amendment, the county must publish the rafting fee on its government website by Dec. 1 for the following year's rafting season.

An earlier version of the amended private act, which simply levied a flat fee per rafting customer, failed to gain support in the state assembly last year. It never even reached the Senate floor.

Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, previously stated that he received strong opposition to the 2010 flat fee bill in the House because of concern over giving any county the right to impose fees on federally controlled waterways.

Commissioner Greg Brooks sees the passage of the new legislation as a step forward in renewed relations between the outfitters and the county.

While he said no specific plans are on the table now, the winter meetings between county commissioners and rafters floated possibilities that encompassed Polk's tourism industry as a whole.

Bell could not be reached for comment.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com