As the Dumfries Planning Commission weighs its decision on allowing a horse racetrack tomorrow, questions surround the amount of money the controversial track would bring to the tiny town.
At a standing-room-only public hearing at Dumfries Town Hall last week, the seven-member commission heard 65 speakers on the racetrack that Colonial Downs Inc. proposes to build atop an 85-acre landfill off Interstate 95. Three of four speakers denounced the track, calling the attendant gambling immoral and addictive and expressing skepticism that it would bring promised economic benefits to the town.
Such skepticism might be well-founded. In addition to local real estate, utility and other taxes, the locality in which a track is built is entitled to a portion of the proceeds from betting. The locality receives one-quarter of 1 percent of the state-mandated parimutuel tax. Colonial Downs estimates that the locality would receive $230,000 a year.
But at issue is the locality itself--is it the town or the surrounding county?
Prince William County Attorney Sharon E. Pandak, in a report last week, said only cities and counties are considered "localities" under the state statute that addresses horse racing.
In that case, Prince William would get the money, she said. The county is considering a track application of its own, from Middleburg businessman James J. Wilson, to build a turf track in Nokesville on the Fauquier County line.
Pandak noted that Dumfries, as a town, is not entitled under state law to hold a referendum on parimutuel betting like the two Prince William held in 1994 and 1989. But Dumfries Town Manager Mike Riley said he thinks the betting revenue tax would belong to the town, because the track would be located in a separate jurisdiction from the county.
Colonial Downs officials have promised to give Dumfries a "mutually acceptable" sum to make up for the lost revenue. And the town of 3,400 could still collect a 25-cent admission tax on the proposed $2 entry fee to the track, Colonial Downs attorney John Foote said.
The town's planning staff has recommended that its Planning Commission approve the track, provided it does not start up an off-track betting parlor before it offers live racing. Off-track, or simulcast, betting, in which races from other states are beamed onto TV screens, is the proposed track's most controversial feature.
The Town Council, with a recommendation from the commission, is expected to vote on the track Nov. 9. A decision from the state Racing Commission still is pending.