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New tax in works to cover stadium

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett commissioners plan to impose a new tax to pay for the county's new baseball stadium.

Officials expect to earn $500,000 a year through a 3 percent tax on car rentals. The money will go to paying off the debt for the stadium.

"It takes the burden off the local taxpayers," Commissioner Bert Nasuti said of the car rental tax, which is also in place in Atlanta to fund improvements made to Philips Arena in the late 1990s. "The reason you do that is so you don't raise taxes.

"There's almost no place in the universe that doesn't have a rental tax," he added, referring to large cities. "It's been a part of the finance plan all along."

Commissioners announced earlier this week they would contribute $12 million in recreation tax funds to build a minor-league stadium for a Class AAA Braves team.

Construction of the stadium, which will be located at 2500 Buford Drive, south of the Mall of Georgia and Interstate 85 and Rock Springs Road, would also require the sale of $33 million in bonds, which would be paid back over 30 years.

According to Gwinnett Finance Director Lisa Johnsa, the yearly payment on the bonds will be determined by a number of factors, but the county expects a total of $1.7 million in revenues from the stadium.

The revenues include:

· a $250,000 rental fee from the Braves, plus a $1 per ticket surcharge with a guaranteed $400,000;

· at least $350,000 for selling the stadium's naming rights (the Braves will receive the first $350,000 of a deal and the two would split any amount more than $350,000);

· an estimated $200,000 from parking charges (the Braves would receive an equal amount of the parking proceeds).

The car rental tax would chip in another half a million dollars, and Lisa Anders of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau said the county would still remain competitive with Atlanta for rentals.

In addition to the 3 percent tax for those who rent cars at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, another 10 percent surcharge is added to pay for a planned car rental agency location, she said.

"There are a lot more car rental places in Gwinnett than most people think," Anders said, adding that many hotels and car dealerships have rentals as well as stand-alone facilities in the Duluth area.

Nasuti said he views the car rental tax as similar to the hotel-motel tax, which is charged mostly to tourists and goes to pay back the bonds used to build the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

"It's something people come to expect," Anders added.

Aswad Bobb, a Norcross man who works at Hertz Rent a Car near Gwinnett Place Mall, said he would love to attend games, when the Gwinnett Braves begin playing in 2009. But he didn't like the idea of a new tax to fund the baseball stadium, even if it does little to impact business.

"I don't think it's a big enough deal to implement a new tax. That should be on the team, " he said of the stadium. "We'd like to see the games, but that's what we'd pay the tickets for. ... It's fine, but I wouldn't want to pay more taxes out of my pocket."

The car rental tax, which according to state law can only be used to support a convention center, arena, stadium or similar venture, is expected to be considered at a county commission meeting next month.