Tell Me Yurt Kidding! Yurt's Not a Cabin, Dade Can't Tax, Says Cloudland Canyon

What is a yurt?

Historically, a yurt was a circular, transportable dwelling made of skins used by nomadic Mongolian and Turkic tribes. But just what the modern, canvas-sided version is played an interesting role in Dade County's ongoing quest for new tax revenues.

At its regular February meeting on Thursday, the Dade County Commission voted to finalize adoption of its new hotel-motel tax--despite the revelation that the county's best and brightest hope of revenues from the tax, Cloudland Canyon State Park (CCSP), had declared itself exempt from it. (Patience. We'll get to the part about yurts in a minute.)

The commission had held the first reading of the new tax at its January meeting, and only a second reading at the Feb. 2 meeting was needed to make it official. But District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith brought up the matter of the state park, and County Attorney Robin Rogers explained:

State rules say that state parks are only subject to the hotel-motel, or accommodation, tax if they rent out 20 or more cabins, he said. Cloudland Canyon has 16. (Here it comes.) Thus, Rogers went on, the argument came down to whether the 10 yurts Cloudland added in late 2012 qualified as cabins.

The Cloudland Canyon yurts have canvas walls like a tent's, stretched around wooden flooring like a cabin's. They do not have bathrooms but are served by a communal bathhouse at the park's "yurt village."

County Clerk Don Townsend argued that the yurts did qualify as accommodation -- "It's rough lodging, but it's a shelter," said Townsend.

But Rogers said CCSP judged otherwise and that the county had no authority to pass an ordinance that applied to a state park, only to enter into an agreement with it. Cloudland Canyon had told him yurts did not meet the definition of cabins, he said, so: "They're not going to be able to enter into an agreement with us to collect taxes."

Townsend said it may be a matter the county can take back up with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources next year

"I'm afraid it's going to take more time and more money to try to even get it started than it's even going to make at the present time," said Commissioner Smith.

"We've been talking about it for four years," said Townsend. And, he said, the tax would bring in a little revenue, if not that much right away. "You're still getting something," said Townsend. "Right now it's zero."

Finally, the commissioners put the matter to a vote and it passed easily, with Commissioners Scottie Pittman and Allan Bradford of Districts 2 and 4, respectively, voting in favor, District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff absent on a winter cruise, and Commissioner Smith abstaining.

Asked about the accommodation tax after the meeting, Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley said that even minus the state park, and even considering that the county does not propose levying a tax on the motel in Trenton, which is already taxed by the city, there were still a few properties it would apply to: some cabins on the side of Lookout Mountain and some rentals at Lookout Flight Park.

Besides, said the county boss: "If it's 10 or if it's 200, we've put a lot of work in this thing. It needs to be passed because, honestly, we've got a couple of hotels looking to build in Dade County. We want to be ready." He said Trenton collects around $30,000 on its one hotel.

Of Cloudland Canyon, "They're wanting to play kind of hardball," said Rumley. "I don't understand what their issue is, because the tax can be spent only on them."

It had previously come to light that by law, any revenues generated by accommodation taxes on state park properties were required to be spent directly on promoting the park.

Posse? "There's something wrong somewhere." If it's a matter of CCSP not trusting Dade County to collect and administer the tax, the commission itself is in an oddly similar situation with the state. Rumley said later in the meeting that in conversations with other county bosses from northwestern Georgia counties, it had emerged that all of them, like Dade, were lately seeing dramatic reductions in local option sales tax revenues.

These taxes are collected locally but processed and disbursed back to the counties by the Georgia Department of Revenue, explained Rumley, so that he and the other county heads had begun to wonder "whether they're holding back."

"There's something wrong somewhere," said Rumley

He said that he and his counterparts from the other counties plan to form a group and request answers from the Dept. of Rev.

In other business, the Boss reported that "permanent" striping now delineates the lanes at Trenton's main intersection in front of the Ingle's. The quotation marks are there because in fact, said Rumley, the intersection is to be redone this summer to make the lanes less puzzling; but until then, the new striping gives drivers a better clue as to what is expected of them and Rumley hopes it will mitigate the anxiety caused by this problematic interchange.

As to another ongoing county woe, Rumley said surveyor John Shober is expected to complete work at the Lookout Lake dam so that the commission can shortly present its plan to fix it in Atlanta. "It will save us tremendous money a year," said Rumley.

The dam has been judged inadequate by the state for many years; now the county hopes to lower the water level in the lake to put it into another category and solve the problem without major expense.

Rumley also announced the long-in-the-building new Fred's Supercenter had opened the preceding Friday on South Main.

The commissioners approved $17,339 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds for exterior fire doors at the county jail and $46,980.94 for two new Ford Explorers for the Dade Sheriff's Department.

Commissioner Smith announced he had spoken with Wright Brothers, the contractors replacing the I-59 bridge at Highway 299 in Wildwood, and learned the project is still on schedule to culminate over one weekend in May--as yet unnamed--with the new bridge snapped into place and traffic rerouted for only those two and a half days.

Smith also reminded Dade residents that the 30th annual 3 State 3 Mountain bicylcing event will roll through Dade on May 6.

Commissioner Scottie Pittman announced that animal welfare activist Ann Brown will host her annual pet dinner benefit on Feb. 28. Call her for details at (423) 505-1714

Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade County Library, invited all to contribute photos for the library's Living History project. If you have an old or new pic that says, "This is Dade County," the library wants it for the book it is compiling. Bring in old snaps and the library staff will scan them and hand them back, or send them digitally to

Ms. Sharp also said the library will hold free beginning computer classes on Feb. 28 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Call for a slot at (706) 657-7857.

Cheryl Painter of the Dade County Chamber of Commerce announced that the annual Chamber awards banquet will be on March 18 this year at the Trenton Civic Center. Ticket prices have not yet been set. You may call the C of C for more details at (706) 657-4488.

In citizens' participation, Nona Martini stood up to register her opinion on and ask questions about the commission's intentions in reference to an ordinance governing liquor by the drink, which the voters approved in November. See The Planet's previously-posted article about that.

The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month in the County Administrative Building.

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