Many times, in a small rural government environment the local authorities have to decide if they want to continue the growth of the local economy or to kill or stifle the positive financial impact of hosted events on the local economy. Often there is no consideration given to the positive family environment created by the events or the enormous capital outlay for the facilities to host events. This financial capital outlay is not limited to small civic groups, municipalities, county governments, or even colleges. It often requires legislative or grant help to make bigger projects happen. No matter where the financial or development assistance comes from, most of us have a hand in the paying of taxes which provides significant benefits to offset the cost of development.

We have been very fortunate here in Jackson County where generations current and past have spent much time and money building facilities that will allow our beautiful area to be showcased as so many travel to the area for events such as college games, high school games, or travel athletics. With the travel to our area, we the citizens benefit from the generation of bed taxes, fuel taxes, and sales taxes and local small businesses benefit from goods, services, and food purchases. Sports tourism provides both small and large economies with millions of dollars.  The Sports Events and Tourism Association (SETA), stated in 2021 in the United States that sports tourism generated over $90 billion dollars in economic impact. There is one state neighbor that has highlighted its area as an athletic venue to host all sorts of events. Valdosta, Georgia and the Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority has branded itself as “Complete Valdosta-Lowndes” which has generated a $50 million economic impact over the last nine years for Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia. A substantial financial impact which will be shared by all citizens in that community.

So many people are under the impression that these travel events only produce tax benefits to our community from the recently increased 5-cent bed tax. However here in Jackson County, the bed tax provides a minimum contribution to the overall tax revenue structure in Jackson County. Department of Revenue Administered Taxes/DOR Accounts provided the following tax collections for Jackson County for fiscal year July 2022-2023: Local Opt Sales Tax $8,186,853; Tourist Dev Tax (a/k/a Bed Tax) $448,659; Additional LOC Gas Tax $475; Voted 1 Cent Loc Gas Tax $430,916; County Non-Voted LOC Opt Gas Tax $1,813,655; Municipal Non-Voted LOC Opt Gas Tax $592,816. Of the 6 provided tax amounts, the Tourist Dev Tax (Bed Tax) provides a revenue amount that ranks 5 out of 6 from highest to lowest tax generation. So based upon the straight truth of the numbers, our community’s benefit far exceeds any bed tax revenue and greatly benefits from the sales and fuel taxes paid by visitors buying goods and services in our area. As a parent of a former wrestling athlete who traveled the tri-state area, I have seen firsthand the benefit of these events and tournaments. Every time we would travel, I would be overwhelmed by the thought of the economic impact on the community we were visiting.

We do not live in past times when each small town or city was bustling on Saturday or community events as they were when Marianna had dirt roads in the downtown area. As we travel around many small towns today, we see so many vacant businesses and lost trades or even in some cases “ghost towns”. We must be innovative in our thinking during these tough times and maximize and recruit what is providing revenue to our community and its citizens. Just remember to look at the numbers as they will paint the true portrait for you. In August and November of 2024 vote for those individuals who want to make your community a bustling and viably profitable place. I will leave you with those thoughts and that concludes this week’s edition of The Straight Truth With Mary Ann Hutton.