Wilson County Government’s attempt to secure funding through an increase in the hotel/motel tax for the proposed Expo Center at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center via a legislative private act needing the General Assembly’s approval died Thursday afternoon.
Despite efforts to compromise with the hotel/motel association at the local and state level by county commissioners and District 46 State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, House Bill 2506 died for lack of a second in the House Local Government Subcommittee.
“It’s the first time that Wilson County Commission has sent a private act down to the state legislature that it didn’t get passed,” said District 14 County Commissioner Jeff Joines, who has been the point person for the Expo Center at the county level.
The resolution sent to the legislature would have granted Wilson County the authority to raise its hotel/motel tax up by 1 percent – a negotiated amount down from the original up to 3 percent sought by the county commission.
Still, that appeared to be of little significance to House legislators. Introduced on Feb. 19 and referred to the Local Government Committee-Finance on Feb. 24, the bill was placed on the Local Government Committee for March 4. However, that committee sent it back to the Local Government Subcommittee, which placed it on the March 12 calendar, then deferred it to the March 26 calendar.
“I went down there several times to discuss the private act with legislators on those committees,” Joines said. “They all told me the same thing – that if all of our legislators had been on board on this, it would have gone through. But because not all of our legislators agreed on it, they weren’t going to get involved.”
District 57 State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, never signed on to the local legislation as a supporter in the House, while District 17 State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, had introduced Senate Bill 2605 in the upper chamber.
However, per legislative protocol, the Senate bill had remained on the desk awaiting approval of the House bill before being starting its journey through the Senate’s committee.
“I talked to six or seven members of the full committee, and they all said it was because not all of them (local House legislators) signed on, they sent it back to sub-committee to die, which it did.”
Three other private acts from the cities of Columbia, Fayetteville and Spring Hill – all seeking approval to either impose a hotel/motel tax for the first time or to increase their existing one – failed to get seconds in the House Local Government Subcommittee on Thursday as well.
“Private acts in the past have been a formality, but those days are over for Wilson County,” Joines said. “Looks like to me we’re going to have to fight for everything we send down there.”
Joines said there is not a back-up plan for funding the construction of the Expo Center if the other funding mechanism left in play at the state level does not pass. That resolution would add a $1 per ticket surcharge to all paying events at the Ag Center.
As of Thursday afternoon, Pody had not filed House Bill 2534 until Monday of this week. It passed first consideration on Thursday. It must still pass second consideration before being assigned to a committee. However, there was not a companion Senate Bill listed.
Joines said that with the hotel/motel tax dead, there remains a way to possibly build the building – if the ticket surcharge passes.
“If it passes, we already had 1 percent of the current hotel/motel tax going toward the construction. We would ask for another 1 percent, and together with the ticket surcharge, we’d have about $700,000 each year to pay the bond note,” Joines said.
“If that one doesn’t pass down there, there’s no money to do anything. We always said we weren’t going to ask the citizens of Wilson County for new tax dollars to pay this.”
Joines added that the failed passage of the hotel/motel tax is “a setback not only for the Ag Center, but also for all of Wilson County. We’ve entered into a new area of politics in Wilson County.”
Still, he said the county commission would continue to look for ways to enhance the Ag Center and the quality of life in Wilson County.
“This is by no means a dead issue,” Joines said. “We’re just going to have to start looking at different ways to fund it. Eventually, we will have an Expo Center in Wilson County.”
Correspondent Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at email@example.com.