Washington County Takes Over Sportsplex Construction Debt, For Now
The remaining debt from a bond issued for the construction and development of the Delta Sportsplex will soon fall solely on the shoulders of Washington County, at least for a time.
A Senate bill drafted by Sen. Derrick Simmons that would have allowed a 2% tax generated by Washington County lodging establishments to address Sportsplex debt to continue died April 5 in Mississippi. House Committee for Local and Private Legislation.
On April 14, the Mississippi Department of Revenue issued a notice repealing the tax effective July 1.
The Delta Sportsplex Foundation is a non-profit organization that was created with the goal of bringing a quality level of sports activities, tournaments and economic development to the county and the community.
Supervisory board chairman Carl McGee drew attention to the notice at Monday’s regular BOS meeting.
“There was information that was clearly requested by members of the House of Representatives from the Sportsplex Foundation. They did not provide that information and with that they (the House members) refused to allow the repeal to go ahead and he in turn died in the House committee for the local and private legislation,” McGee said, pointing out that there was about $2.7 million. in the indebtedness that remains on the obligation.
Rep. Willie Bailey and Rep. John Hines were sponsors of Mississippi HB1453 of April 2011 authorizing the imposition of a hotel/motel tax to fund a youth sports complex.
According to Bailey, the amount of capital that had been injected into the Sportsplex was requested from the Sportsplex officials and the amount of money that had been paid on the bond issue was requested from the county in order to obtain consideration for extension of the tax.
“We also asked for a report on the composition of the Sportsplex board of directors because we felt that certain segments of the city’s population were not represented on the board and yet it was tax money that was invested in this particular project,” Bailey said. “This request was made in February.”
In summary, information justifying the retention of the 2% tax and how it was spent was never provided, according to Bailey.
“We wanted clarification on this before deciding to continue,” he added. “When you spend public money you have to be held accountable… my position at the time I made the request was that if I didn’t get this information I could not support a repeal to extend this tax.
Councilor Al Brock, a member of the Sportsplex Foundation, said he is partnering with the county as a tenant of the county-owned facility.
“All we do is lease, maintain and run the facility as an independent non-profit organization,” he explained. “Obviously we’re all very confused and disappointed that he hasn’t been reinstated. We don’t understand what the situation is, but let’s say we struggled to bring the level of play to the tournament. at the sports complex.
While there was fervent hope to bring substantial activity to the sports complex, Brock pointed to the substantial competition Washington County faced with neighboring communities and others across the state also developing new large complexes.
“Every major community in this state has done the same thing and developed major sports complexes and playgrounds at much higher levels and expense than we have and we basically found ourselves competing with other communities to organize tournaments in the region,” he added. “We have a lot of activity there and a big part of it is of course our local soccer and baseball leagues and we are continually working to get more play into the sports complex, but it’s been a real challenge with the type of shoe-volunteer base on which we operate.
He added: “The funding we have basically comes from the money we earn from tournaments, businesses and sponsorships that we are able to secure.”
With the next legislative session scheduled for January 2023, McGee sought permission from the BOS to draft new private and local legislation to reinstate the 2% lodging tax and more.
“And,” he told BOS members, “maybe an additional 1% to help take care of county parks, which would include Hollandale, Leland, and areas like that where we can help. .”
McGee continued: “If we develop this legislation for individuals and premises and they give us a total of 3%, that allows 2% (paid by visitors) to go to the Sportsplex and 1% to ‘Helping Washington County Parks.’
Approval of such legislation would go through the Department of Revenue and, according to McGee, would prompt the BOS to consider whether the county should have its own department of parks and recreation.
The BOS voted unanimously to grant McGee the requested clearances.