By CARL E. FEATHER - email@example.com
The Convention Facilities Authority (CFA) on Friday played Santa to county taxpayers with a vote to give commissioners $300,000 toward lodge debt.
The contribution is double the amount the CFA originally planned to send to the county this year. CFA member Tom Robertson made the motion to increase the contribution after Commissioner Daniel Claypool suggested the amount.
“I would like it to be around $300,000,” Claypool told the members. “We need to pay the debt down.”
The county borrowed more than $21 million to build the lodge and add amenities. A 30-year, $14.2 million construction loan is set up with semi-annual payments. The second loan, which started out at $7.2 million, has been “rolled over” each year. Commissioners have paid a total of about $1 million toward the principal of that loan, which comes due in May.
The smaller loan originally was made by the CFA to furnish the lodge and build the pool. The county later took over the debt, with the understanding that the CFA would assist with the debt reduction.
The CFA, which is funded by a portion of the county’s bed tax, has about $372,000 at its disposal. In the past, the group has used a portion of its revenue for special projects at the lodge, such as the outdoor dining area, but this year the group has been more focused on planning projects rather than doing them. Projects under discussion include revamping Chestnut Grove and replacing the gazebo with a larger, more appealing structure.
The lodge’s portion of the bed tax is showing a $37,215 increase over the prior year; the receipts for September, received by the CFA last month, were up nearly 25 percent over the prior September.
“Tourism is not going any where in the county but up,” observed CFA member Donniella Winchell.
County revenues have not been as fortunate, however. Claypool said the county’s general fund is suffering as a result of funding cuts from the state. Even more cuts could be coming in the next two-year budget cycle. He said any money that the CFA directs to the county’s general fund for debt reduction helps free up funds for other uses.
Commissioners recently wrapped up 2013 budget hearings with elected officials and department heads, who collectively requested $1.7 million more than what the county has available to spend. Claypool pointed out that some of those requests will have to be honored because of mandates.
The county this year began receiving revenue from the state’s casinos, but Claypool said the original revenue estimate of $2 million annually was unrealistic. Based upon the most recent quarterly payment, the revenue will be around $800,000, he said.
In addition to the $300,000 from the CFA, the county could receive more than $200,000 from lodge profits this year. That money will also go toward debt reduction.
Jeannette Petrolia, general manager of the lodge, told CFA members that her forecast is for the lodge to post an operating profit of $210,000 for 2012. That is $70,000 more than the lodge made last year.
The profit does not reflect payments the county makes on lodge debt.