Voters Will Decide Fate of Fair and Expo Sales Tax

August 30, 2019

Stephens County voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, September 10 to decide the fate of a .25% sales tax that benefits the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center. The measure, if passed, will replace a tax that has been in place since 2000 and is set to expire on December 31, 2020.

According to figures supplied by the County Clerk’s office, the current sales tax has generated nearly $8.4 million in the past 5 years, an average of just under $1.7 million yearly, for the Fairgrounds. The funds are used for construction, maintenance, and operations for the facility that are not covered by the revenue from rental fees.

County Commissioner Kreg Murphree feels that continuing the sales tax is essential not only to the Fairgrounds, but to the county economy. “This tax we’ve had in place for 20 years has built this facility,” Murphree said. “Now we need to maintain it and continue to build on that success.”

The County Clerk’s office’s figures state that in the same five-year period, rental fees have been collected in the amount of $1,081,454.55 or an average of $216,290.91. Murphree said that the facility’s operations cannot be maintained by rental fees alone. “We could cut corners, cut staff, raise the rental fees,” Murphree said. “But that’s not going to maintain the facility and allow for continued improvements. And increasing the cost of events is going to price 95% of our clients out of using it.

“This is a community facility, and we all benefit from it,” Murphree added. “People use the Fairgrounds for family reunions, wedding receptions, the Toy Shop rummage sale. They rent it because it’s affordable.”

Murphree also emphasized the number of events that are booked at the Fairgrounds every year and credited the staff for building the clientele. In Fiscal Year 2018-2019, 280 paid events were held at the Fairgrounds. Murphree cited the performance of Fairgrounds manager Matt Byerly as instrumental in the facility’s success. “[Byerly] has stabilized the staff, organized operations out there, it’s running well. He’s got 300 events coordinated this year [FY 2019-2020].”

The Fairgrounds have recently undergone improvements such as replacing older air conditioning units, adding to the number of livestock pens available, and patching the parking lot. When the expense of the improvements was discussed in County Commissioner meetings, the benefit to clients and the expansion of events were emphasized.

“As the events at the Fairgrounds grow, we need to keep up with their needs,” Murphree said, citing the American Bucking Bull organization’s American Heritage Futurity event that was at the Fairgrounds in June, hosted by the Two Bulls Group. “Just look at the size of the Two Bulls event that was here. It’s the largest of its kind in the nation.”

The Marlow Review reported at the time that ABBI President Jay Daugherty was impressed with the facility and the community. “The fairgrounds has great chutes available and the facility is managed well, Daugherty said. “Stephens County is centrally located, with good hotels and restaurants. We bring in four to five hundred people for this event and they all stay at hotels and eat here... It’s a great place to spend a few days.”

Murphree said that the sales tax revenue is “just a drop in the bucket” for the community, and posited that attendees at Fairgrounds events contribute $16-20 million into the County economy.

“The little you pay in gives big dividends,” Murphree said. “If we don’t, it’s going to be a huge financial loss for our county. And once we lose it we may never get it back in terms of events. If we don’t pass this to keep the sales tax, even if we bring it back later we’re going to have to start from scratch with the events that went elsewhere. It’s a question of maintaining what we’ve got or going back to square one once we lose it.”