The company seeking to build a horse racing track in Dumfries said the local share of tax revenue from the venture would be $900,000 to $1.5 million a year--numbers that got a mixed reaction from Town Council members eager to evaluate the proposal before a Nov. 30 deadline.
According to the report from Colonial Downs, which owns the state's only parimutuel wagering track, business from the mile-long steeplechase track and betting parlor and at local stores would generate $5.8 million to $9.7 million a year.
Dumfries Mayor Chris Brown, who has enthusiastically championed the track as a worthy economic opportunity for the tiny town, said that if estimates are correct, the tax revenue alone would be a great boon.
"That would be a terrific windfall for the citizens of Dumfries to achieve much-needed capital improvements," Brown said, pointing to recreational facilities, road improvements and a sound barrier along Interestate 95 as priorities if the track is built.
The report says construction of the $20 million racetrack would generate $4 million to $6.5 million in local spending and create 170 to 280 jobs, some of them local. But precisely how much revenue and tax money would go to the town is hard to gauge--spurring some council members to express confusion.
Council member Fred E. Yohey Jr. said that after studying the report, he thought, " 'Excuse me, but how much is coming to Dumfries?' To me, it raises more questions in my mind than it provides answers."
Dumfries has not yet received a proposal from Colonial Downs, which is based in Providence Forge, near Richmond. Company President Ian Stewart said he hopes to remedy the situation within a week.
Still, the ticking clock has caused some raised eyebrows for Town Council members only too aware that Colonial Downs has fewer than four months to obtain local permission, as well as a license from the Virginia Racing Commission. The project is one of two horse track proposals that are trying to slide under the wire of a five-year referendum in Prince William County.
"I'm just not sure that we as a group will have enough time to review everything and get everything in place," said Vice Mayor Claude C. Thomas Jr. "We're really working on a short fuse."
And opponents of the project have pointed to Colonial Downs' checkered financial history, questioning whether the estimates could be trusted. The company lost $5.3 million in 1998, and financial analysts expect it will report losses again this year.
"We have to look at the track record Colonial Downs has had so far," said Bill Kincaid, a state General Assembly lobbyist who helped defeat riverboat gambling earlier in the decade. "The reality is that they've not really turned a profit. . . . I don't think they have a lot of credibility as far as numbers."
Supporters of the track say it would not only lend an economic hand to Dumfries but also boost horse racing for the entire state. The Virginia Thoroughbred Association recently came out in favor of the Colonial Downs track.
"Such a facility in Dumfries would generate much-needed revenue and jobs in Dumfries, Prince William County and throughout the state," the association said in a statement.
In recent years, disagreements have risen between Colonial Downs and the Virginia Racing Commission over the purse money awarded to horse owners and trainers. Robin Williams, commission chairwoman, said that she had not studied the company's economic report, but that in general, the racetrack and four off-site betting parlors operated by the company had been positive entities.
"Certainly the localities that have Colonial Downs operating within their borders have benefited," Williams said.