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Letter to the Editor: Expo Center proposal flawed

Letter to the Editor • Dec 15, 2015 at 2:15 PM

To the Editor:

On Dec. 16, 18 of 25 Wilson County Commissioners voted to send a request in the form of private act legislation containing the proposed expo center funding options to state Rep. Mark Pody for consideration by the legislature. Those 18 commissioners based their voting decision on the justification of a Dec. 4 publicly released study, which is dishonestly represented as a feasibility study, but is indisputably not so, nor is it titled such. Please ask Pody to request that a majority of the commission re-do its homework, and also get a reality check.

That study was not deliberated six days later at the Dec. 9 meeting of the Ag Committee members, which rubber-stamped it and leveraged the study to justify the entire commission vote Dec. 16. Yet, the study nonetheless demonstrates the expo center proposal is not financially feasible. This reckless runaway expo train, led by Commissioner Jeff Joines, dishonestly leveraged a dishonest study in order to ram proposed legislation through the commission and to the legislature in just 12 days.

There is no need to get into dissecting the financial complexity of the not-a-feasibility study, because the study states on page 12 that two of the critical foundational study assumptions are “peer county analysis” and published studies on convention/expo facilities. Yet neither exist in the study, so game over. It can’t be a feasibility study. It’s a dishonest house of cards, which cost county taxpayers $15,000.

The financial malarkey in the study in no way justifies an expo center pursuit. One can minimally do an expedient mini-feasibility study by researching the applicable numbers of the expo centers nearby, such as in Murfreesboro, Franklin, Cookeville (65,000), near Morristown (30,000), Cleveland (42,000) and Hendersonville (53,000). Lebanon’s population is 26,000; Wilson County is estimated to be 119,000.

Having done so myself, the financial data illustrates the proposed Wilson County expo center would in all probability run an indefinite deficit so large as to require annual significant county taxpayer funding, as well as would not come near offsetting the incremental sales tax triggered by the center. The air-tight case can be made that those who support an expo center, support a hidden back-end tax increase on county residents.

In the year ending June 30, 2013, the Wilson County Ag Center’s deficit of about $614,000 was funded by county taxpayers. In the prior year, it was about $457,000. This newspaper reported Dec. 10 that each percent of the proposed additional 3-percent hotel tax for an expo center equated to $150,000. It appears the most state legislators would even consider is an additional 1 percent, which might generate $150,000 annually toward the estimated annual bond payment of $550,000. 

 Wilson County Promotions has indicated perhaps an annual contribution of about $200,000. If the center were already built and operating last year, and considering the performance of regional expo centers, the 2013 deficit might have been $814,000, paid by county taxpayers. Yet Joines, Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and others have pitched that county taxpayers would have no risk of subsidizing the center, that the incoming revenues would justify the building cost and operating expense, and the worthless study, deceptively referred to as a feasibility study, justifies their optimism. Big baloney.    

Derek Dodson


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