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Posted: September 26, 2013 9:29 p.m.

City OKs projects for hotel tax $

Projects include the Miracle League field, Chimney Park, downtown restrooms and Legion Field

Tourism in Newton County continues to grow, setting off a positive cycle as more tourists contribute more in tax dollars, which are then used to try to attract even more tourists.

The Covington City Council is finally ready to take advantage of the tourism tax money it’s been setting aside for the past three-plus years, planning to work on a number of projects which could draw tourists, but will provide plenty of use for area residents.

The council voted Sept. 16 to approve a resolution reallocating some of the hotel/motel tax money it collects to different projects, including the Newton County Miracle League filedField, further development of Chimney Park (behind the Covington Branch Library), lighting for this year’s enhanced Christmas lighting of the square and downtown, public restrooms in downtown Covington and improvements to Legion Field, which is being turned into a public park and entertainment venue.

The city charges a special 8 percent tax on all hotel and motel stays in the city, and the tax money must be used for tourism-related purposes. Of that 8 percent tax, 5 percent is split between the Covington-Newton County of Chamber, which gets 60 percent of funds for tourism, and Main Street Covington, which gets 40 percent to promote and develop downtown and host events. The remaining 3 percent of the tax is split 50-50 between tourism and special city projects.

The hotel/motel tax was increased from 5 percent to 8 percent in April 2010. Originally, the city was going to use the 1.5 percent of the tax for special projects on the planned downtown civic center. Since that project fizzled out when the economy collapsed – — and shows no signs of being revived – — the council is reallocating funding to other projects.
As of July 31, the city has collected $241,357 for special projects. August 2013 collections have not yet been calculated.

Out of the $241,000-plus (including whatever was collected in August), the breakdown will be:
- 2.5 percent of existing money to the Miracle League Field
- 1 percent of the existing money to Chimney Park
- $20,000 for Christmas lighting of the square and downtown (Main Street Covington is also providing $20,000 for this year’s beefed-up holiday lighting)
Remaining money and future tax revenue will go to:
- the construction of public restrooms downtown (this project has first priority)
- improvements to the 8.5-acre Legion Field (potentially including an amphitheater, pavilion, gated arch entryway and playground equipment, restrooms and improved parking)

The city has never spent any of the tax money it’s collected for special projects.

The council hopes to convert Legion Field, which is located off Mill Street, into a public park and venue to host concerts and other entertainment. The city is in the process of repairing the roof on the existing building at Legion Field.

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