Northeast Georgia business leaders are jumping for joy at legislation U.S. Rep Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has introduced that would reduce fees levied on some businesses at marinas collected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Collins held a roundtable discussion Friday morning at Holiday Marina in Buford to discuss the bill and to get feedback from business owners and elected officials. The event concluded with a tour of the marina.
The Marina Operator Tax Obligation Relief Act of 2013 would cap fees nationally at 1 percent on all restaurant, gasoline and marine engine sales in marinas operating on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes. The fee is currently can go up to 4.6 percent on gross sales on such businesses.
Collins said the bill levels the playing field and will help corps lakes around the country.
“What can we do that actually impacts businesses ... that’s not going to make the national headlines, but it may make a difference in employing three people in the 9th District or three people in Missouri or five people in other places,” Collins said. “We’re saying ‘What can we do to encourage business, what can we do to encourage small business and entrepreneurship.’”
William Anderson, president of Westrec Marina Management Inc., the largest owner and operator of marinas in the U.S., said it was excellent legislation. The company owns Holiday and Sunrise Cove marinas on Lake Lanier.
“The congressman should really be commended for looking to try to put money back into the pockets of small businessmen that are trying to keep people employed and provide services,” Anderson said. “The real growth in our economy is really by small business.”
The corps collects on concession leases on government property and charges a percentage of rent based on businesses’ gross sales for the previous year, corps spokesman E. Patrick Robbins said. The percentage ranges from 2 percent to a maximum of 4.6 percent. About 75 percent of what’s collected goes back to the counties because the corps doesn’t pay property taxes on federal property, he said. The other approximate 25 percent goes to the federal government.
“It’s like a tax receipt,” Robbins said. “The federal government doesn’t pay property taxes, but you have a business operating on federal property. So to offset that then, a certain amount of those fees collected go back to the counties that particular marina is located in.”
The county is losing out on property taxes because if the business didn’t operate on federal property, it would have to pay property taxes to counties, Robbins said.
Many of the roundtable participants, including Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan and Richard Mecum, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman, praised Collins’ work in office.
Hall County has a marina fund where fees given back to the county are kept. That money can only be used for corps parks, county director of Parks and Leisure Mile Little has said. The county has identified $150,000 of money in the fund going toward renovating the Lake Lanier Olympic Center, but commissioners still need to vote on that.
Mecum said staff in Collins’ office has assured him county will not lose because of the legislation. Collins spokeswoman Loree Anne Thompson said the bill doesn’t touch revenue from dock slips, which makes up much of the funding counties get.
Dunagan said the corps needs to be more business friendly. The city was trying to get a restaurant at Holly Park on Old Thompson Bridge Road a couple years ago, but the corps wasn’t willing to work with it, he said.
“They make you jump through so many hoops,” Dunagan said. “Then they’ll decide whether they’re going to allow you to do it or not.”
Collins praised the corps and it has worked with his office been cooperative, but he wants to reduce regulation. He recently founded an Army Corps of Engineers Reform Caucus in Congress, which is intended to focus on local and national water issues.
Robbins said corps officials don’t comment on pending legislation.