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MILFORD – The Caroline County Board of Supervisors took no action on a recommendation by County Administrator Charles Culley to seek authority from the General Assembly to impose an admissions tax that targets the State Fair of Virginia.
Instead, the board directed county staff to contact business owners and get their input on the proposed tax.
The supervisors, who held a regular meeting last night, expressed conflicting views about when and how to go about obtaining permission from the General Assembly to levy the admissions tax.
The owner and operators of the State Fair already are opposing the idea of an admissions tax.
It’s a bad idea, said Mark Lovell, owner of the Tennessee-based Universal Fairs, which owns Meadow Event Park and the State Fair and operates the fair in a partnership with the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
Caroline officials “are doing everything they can to keep business out of their county,” Lovell said in a phone interview. “I’m already taxed to death.”
The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation also weighed in against an admission tax.
“Virginia Farm Bureau feels that perhaps an admissions tax would be good for a locality at some point, but now is not the right time,” said federation spokesman Greg Hicks. “The economy is struggling, families are struggling, and we don’t want to have to raise the State Fair admission price. We’d be forced to do so if such a tax is enacted.”
The Virginia Sports Complex, located on Jefferson Davis Highway in Ruther Glen, charges admission for high school and travel baseball games, as well as martial arts fights. It could come under the new tax, too. Mr. B’s Park, a special events venue located on Jefferson Davis Highway in Ladysmith, charges admission for concerts and also might be impacted.
County officials do not appear to be interested imposing an admissions tax on nonprofit organizations, such as the Caroline County Fair.
The state limits cities and counties to a 10 percent admissions tax. The tax varies around the state from 1 percent to 10.
“I have several concerns,” said Supervisor Jeff Black, who represents the Western Caroline District where the sports complex is located. “The county is always looking for revenue. I think if we’re going to do this, we need to sit down with the business owners. Businesses are struggling, and we need their input. I’m sure they will not be happy with it.
“I’d rather bring in more business than tax the ones we have,” Black added. “We say Caroline County is open for business. Now we are going to tax them” even more.
“An admissions tax is not something I’d like to have, but I’d rather see that than additional real estate tax,” said Supervisor Calvin Taylor, Sr., who represents the Port Royal district. “We have to look at expenses, and we’ve got to find a way to pay them. We just got through talking about a new radio system.”
“Other localities have this tax, and they are successful in getting new businesses,” Taylor added. “We need the new revenue.”
Supervisor Reginald Underwood, representing the Reedy Church District, where the State Fair is located, said county officials are just seeking the ability to levy the tax.
Supervisor Jeff Sili, representing the Bowling Green District, asked who would come under the tax, and Gary Wilson, director of the county’s department of economic development and tourism, said, “You can define your targeted entity the way you wish.”
Wilson said he talked with Jeff Dillon, president of the State Fair, and learned that Lovell “is not in favor” of the new tax. Wilson said he hadn’t talked with representatives of the sports complex or Mr. B’s.
“Those conversations need to take place first,” Sili said. “I feel a lot of discussion needs to take place.”
Supervisor Floyd W. Thomas, representing the Mattaponi District, said the board at this point is simply considering asking the legislature for the power to enact such a tax, although he was clearly in favor of the levy. “If we can grab money from people coming into the county, we may as well get that money,” said Thomas.
“We should have had this tax before the State Fair came,” added Thomas.
A bill to allow Caroline to levy an admissions tax was introduced in the 2004 session of the General Assembly but failed.
“This is not the year to go to the General Assembly with this,” said Wayne A. Acors, chairman of the board, representing the Madison District. Members of the House of Delegates will be up for re-election in 2013, he noted.
“I do like the idea of realizing some tax revenue from the people going through the county,” added Acors, who suggested the county could make the admissions tax more palatable to the affected businesses by giving them tax breaks on the county’s food and beverage tax.
“If we wanted this approved in the upcoming General Assembly, we should have started it last year,” said Acors.
Lovell’s Universal Fairs also owns fairs in Arizona, George and Tennessee. Only Georgia’s fair has to pay an admission’s tax, and it’s 1 percent, Lovell said.
“If they keep taxing me to death, I won’t do an many events there” in Caroline County, Lovell said in an interview earlier. “If they keep beating me down, I’ll take my toys and go. Raising more taxes is not the answer.”