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Lawmakers consider Douglas hotel-motel tax after meeting
by Tom Spigolon
September 17, 2013 03:58 PM | 2009 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Commission Chairman Tom Worthan said he believes Democratic state lawmakers will approve Douglas County’s proposed hotel-motel tax increase if another Democrat is added to the board that oversees elections.

The county commission met with state lawmakers representing Douglas County districts recently to begin work on a compromise plan to allow proposed changes to the election board after a rift between the two delayed action on both.

“At least we’re talking now,” Worthan said.

Early this year, county leaders asked the county legislative delegation to back local legislation to increase the tax on overnight stays at the four motels in unincorporated Douglas from its current 5 percent to 8 percent.

The increase would raise Douglas County’s tax rate to that of Douglasville, which increased its tax in recent years to build its new downtown conference center, and allow the county to hire someone to promote local attractions and act as curator for the county’s history museum in the old courthouse.

The Douglas County Democratic Party then asked District 35 State Sen. Donzella James, D-College Park, to file legislation to change the selection process for the election board in a way that likely would have established a Democratic majority. The majority Republican county commission opposed the plan and James then chose to hold her support for the tax increase – delaying it for a year. Both James and District 30 State Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, had to back the legislation before the full Georgia Legislature would consider it.

James said she was reconsidering her position following the recent meeting, which included information on a plan for a 350-room Westin hotel on the Foxhall Farms resort site in southeast Douglas County.

“I’m looking at [the tax increase] now,” James said. “I just need to know what the money is for.”

A tax increase sometimes is needed if it leads to needed projects or initiatives, she said.

“I don’t want to hire just a [museum] curator,” she said.

If built, the $135 million project would give the county the ability to raise as much annual tax revenue as the city. County leaders, however, have not committed to the plan because Foxhall leaders asked the government for an almost $39 million bond that reportedly would give the Development Authority of Douglas County ownership of an attached conference center and exhibition center.

James said the meeting was needed because of the variety of opinions among the clashing personalities in the delegation and county commission.

She said the change was needed because Douglas County has become more diverse in recent years. The former Republican stronghold narrowly supported President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the last two elections.

“I was glad we had that meeting,” James said. “It was at least a start.”

The election board legislation in its current form states the membership should be changed on Jan. 1, 2014 – something Worthan opposes because of the need for experienced members overseeing the 2014 elections, he said.

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