• 52°

Arena adds to county’s expenses

As members of the Covington County Commission went through the process on Wednesday of learning more about the county’s expenses, the Covington Center Arena was high on the lists of some commissioners.

Built in the early part of this decade with the help of state, business and private monies, the outstanding debt on the facility ($3.37 million) represents 42 percent of the county’s total general obligation debt.

In the current year’s budget alone, the county will pay $236,421 in debt service on the building. In the 2007-08 fiscal year which ended in September, the county supplemented revenues earned from rent and other fees at the arena by $191,050. That means the county spends approximately $427,471 on the arena each year.

Proponents say events held at the Covington Center Arena generate lodging taxes and sales taxes that offset its costs. But the county collects only about $5,000 per month in lodging taxes.

“I believe the arena can be, and is now, a showcase for the county,” Covington Center Arena manager Tony Wells told commissioners in a workshop meeting on Wednesday. Like proposed ball fields, he said, the arena adds to the local quality of life, which enhances growth.

“The arena adds to that quality of life for residents of Covington County,” Wells said.

At present, the county charges organizations $650 per day for events held there and charges individuals participating in events $10 per day for stall rental. Quizzed by commissioners about whether or not he could increase fees, he said he didn’t think he could justify higher costs without having more stalls. In addition, he said, it would probably drive some of the smaller shows held at the arena away.

In the 12 months of the 2008 calendar year, the arena’s schedule includes 36 events on a total of 77 days. The facility costs the county about $5,500 per event day.

Commissioner Harold Elmore asked if the arena could be shut down during the times events aren’t held there.

“If you don’t have events, could you just shut it down for a month or something like that?”

But Wells said that would be possible only if the commission “laid people off.”

“We usually do maintenance during that time,” Wells said.

He said he has two employees, and uses inmates for additional labor.

Friday, Wells said that he believes the facility has a net positive impact on the local economy.

“What we really need is an impact study,” he said. “I read an article on one done on a 12-day cutting (horse) show in Jackson, Miss. They determined that it had an $8 million impact on the local economy.”

He also said it helps local civic clubs raise money for projects. Among the annual events at the arena are the Kiwanis Covington County Fair, the Civitan rodeo and the Pilot Club horse show.