Darren Doyle, story and photo
Judge Wil Cannon presented a delinquent Recreational and Transient Room Tax repayment plan agreement to the fiscal court at today's meeting that will require The Fortress Group, owner of Park Mammoth Resort to pay a total of $92,789.73. The amount reflects totals from 2010 to 2014.
According to the written agreement, The Fortress Group owes Transient Room Taxes in the amount of $50,950.55, which include penalties and interest, and $41,839.18 in Recreational Taxes, also with penalties and and interest.
All recreational businesses that offer services inside the county (horseback riding, golf, ATV's, etc.) are required to pay a Recreational Tax, the monies of which help fund the county Parks and Rec program. All businesses that offer sleeping accommodations (bed in breakfast, cabin rentals, etc.) must pay a county Transient Room Tax. According to several at today's meeting, Park Mammoth charges their patrons these fees, but hasn't paid the taxes to the county.
"They collected this money, they charged the guests in their hotel these taxes, and then they (Park Mammoth) kept them, and they lived off of them, they kept their business running with that," said Rhonda Clemmons, with the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Board. Clemmons was also appointed by the county earlier in the year to seek out businesses that owed these taxes and collect them. "Greg's (Hudson) program (Parks and Rec) and my programs have both suffered over the last 4 years from lack of funding," she continued. "I've had to go part time, trails haven't been kept up, and you see other things that are affected from this. We've given and given, and I think it's time we do something about this."
Cannon said the county ordinance that was first passed in 1987 regarding payment of these taxes needed to be amended to include specific language regarding payment plans in situations like this one.
"As it stands right now, they're making money off the county because they're taking that money in but not collecting it for us, (the county)" said Tourism Board Member Cindy Rich. "They've done this all the way back since they bought it."
Cannon said his goal was to work out an agreement where the taxes are paid but Park Mammoth still remain in business. "We'd rather just have the money because the county needs it," he said. "But if we can figure out a way that Park Mammoth can pay us what they owe, including penalties and interest in full, and stay in business, that's the best option for everyone."
We asked the simple questions of "why did this go on for five years and escalate to this point?" "Was this company made aware of these taxes, and the penalties and interest for not paying them on time?"
Cannon said he wasn't sure if the company fully knew about it. Magistrate Johnny Brooks, who served with the previous administration, said he wasn't aware of the taxes.
"To our understanding, it was a verbal agreement made by the previous administration," said Clemmons. "I'd like to thank Judge Cannon for that when he took office, it was the first time someone told Parks and Rec and the Tourism Board what was going on with this, because we did not know."
Nick Noble, of The Fortress Group, said he and his company have been open with the county from day one on this issue. "Yes, there's a portion of Room and Rec tax that we've been unable to pay," he said.
When Noble was asked how the amount escalated to the almost $93K today, he said "I'm not sure how to answer that. We purchased a business in Edmonson County that had been struggling for many, many years and we tried to turn it around. We started new businesses within that business. It's been a big challenge, but we've had a lot of success, so I'm not sure how to answer that."
We asked if The Fortress Group was made aware of the Rec and Room Taxes by the previous administration, going back to 2010. "They've always been up front with us and we've always tried to communicate with the fiscal court, yeah, and I've always tried to be up front with them as well," Noble said.
We simply asked Noble if it was safe to assume that Park Mammoth simply was unable to pay the taxes to the county. "That would be correct, or we would've. We've got a payment plan put together to pay all the interest and penalties, and we're going to live up to that. We've never hidden from this, we understand it's been out in the open. We know it's our responsibility and we have to take care of it."
Noble made note that his company employs over 40 people. "I don't know how many employers in Edmonson County have more than that, but it can't be too many," he said. "We're bringing people in from all over the country to big events. Prior to our ownership, Park Mammoth had struggled for a long time under the previous owners. It's taken an absolute Herculian effort to turn that around. We're having a lot of success in lots of areas, other areas not so much. We're pouring our hearts and souls into it, we've been up front with everyone about everything, and we're doing our best to keep the business open, make profit, keep people employed, and grow."
Noble said his company looked at Park Mammoth as a "diamond in the rough," with so many things to offer with the raw ingredients it has to be something more.
"It's uphill, but we're up for the challenge," he said. "We will work with the county to make sure all this is taken care of. We're not trying to run away from anything."
The current payment agreement states that the company will pay $4394. 86 within 30 days of signature with another $4394.86 in six months from signature, with a $1,400 monthly payment for the next 5 years. Some court members brought up the point that a simple 5 year agreement would not work because accruing penalties and interest would keep the balance from being paid within 5 years with the amount of the listed monthly payment.
Magistrate Mark Woosley made a motion to re-write the payment agreement where it states that payments will be made until the balance is paid in full, not 5 years, and that if payments are late, then and only then would the county take other legal action. The motion was seconded by Magistrate Johnny Brooks.
The new agreement will be in order once it's signed by both the Judge Executive and The Fortress Group.