It’s a bit ironic that the Tennessee Senate’s Transportation & Safety Committee was looking out for non-residents of Scott County when it rejected a bill that would have established an ATV event fee locally. In rejecting that bill, they were probably looking out for us, most of all.
It is the residents of Scott County who benefit from the tax dollars derived from ATV events in Huntsville, it is the residents of Scott County who own the businesses that benefit from those events, and it is the residents of Scott County whose jobs are supported by the extra patronage those events bring to the community.
Of course, it’s also the residents of Scott County who are required to foot the bill, through their tax dollars, for any costs that are incurred by the events, and that’s why it isn’t necessarily unfair for local and state officials to work together to figure out a fair way to tax these events.
However, it has yet to be established just how much these events are actually costing the taxpayers of Scott County, if any. And the bill that was being considered by the Senate would have been an egregious overreach.
As it was introduced, the bill would have implemented not only a $10 permit fee for ATV owners who drove their off-road vehicles on public roads, like S.R. 63, during an event period. The $10 permit would have also been required for ATV owners who drove their off-road vehicles on private trails, such as the ones maintained by Brimstone Recreation.
Since a two-day riding permit at Brimstone costs $40, and many attendees of the White Knuckle and Paragon events are only at Brimstone during those event periods, the legislation before the Senate would have effectively established a 25 percent tax for riders at Brimstone, in addition to the 9.25 percent sales tax that is already in place, and the five percent lodging tax that applies to hotel rooms, cabin rentals and campgrounds. To call that additional 25 percent tax prohibitive would be an under-statement, particularly at a time when tourism officials in Campbell, Anderson and Campbell counties are all battling to woo Scott County’s ATV tourists to their own communities.
While much of the discussion by Senate committee members prior to last week’s vote centered around the constitutionality of a disproportionate $10 fee for non-residents of Scott County (residents would have been charged only a $4 fee), Sen. Doug Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains, flatly advised Scott County to think twice before asking for taxes on ATVs.
“In a lot of these rural counties, these off-road vehicles bring a lot of money into the county, a lot of tax dollars. A lot of counties would like to have more,” Nicely said. “I hope your county commission realizes when you tax something, you have less of it. If you go to taxing these out-of-county people, you’re going to have fewer people coming in and spending the night and buying gas and buying food at a restaurant. I hope they realize that.”
It’s still a bit of a mystery how Scott County Commission’s resolution requesting an addition fee for ATV permits for public road usage turned into a fee for riding on private property, but the end result would have nonetheless been a prohibitive tax.
Taxation of ATV tourism is a fair subject. But any tax levied on this new brand of adventure tourism should be fair. And the tax being considered by the Senate would have been decidedly unfair. Going forward, Scott County owes itself a comprehensive study to determine exactly how much these events are costing — and benefiting — the local community before additional taxes are requested.
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