Haywood COG supports motel tax, anti-drug bills

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | May 05, 2013
Photo by: Jessi Stone Members of the Council of Government, except Maggie Valley Aldermen Mike Matthews and Phillip Wight, vote to pass a resolution to support legislation to increase the occupancy tax.

The Haywood County Council of Government passed resolutions to support pending legislation to increase the county’s occupancy tax and to curb drug abuse during a Monday meeting in Maggie Valley.

Canton Town Manager Al Matthews said he wanted to address the “800-pound gorilla in the room.” With all the recent discussion about the proposed legislation to increase the occupancy tax from 4 percent to 6 percent, he said he still didn’t think people understood.

“I think many people fail to understand this is a Haywood County bill,” Matthews said. “This is not a Maggie Valley bill. If it passes, only the county commissioners could enact the tax, only the county has authority to reduce or rescind the tax.”

The county commissioners and all the municipalities, except Maggie Valley, have voted to support the increase to help pay for tourism capital improvement projects. However, the Maggie Board of Aldermen, after first voting to support the measure, held a second vote and was split 2-2 with Aldermen Mike Matthews and Phillip Wight opposed. Mike Matthews said he voted against the bill because it kept changing every time he saw it. He and Wight both wanted a six-year sunset clause and an 11-member product development committee outlined in the bill.

“There’s all kinds of information out there that’s worse than inaccurate,” Al Matthews said. He said the bill introduced by Sen. Jim Davis is the same as seen by the boards except for the fact that the sunset clause was increased to 10 years. Davis’ office made that change because it’s hard to plan for long-term funding with a six-year clause. Al Matthews said many requested that the board be increased to 15 members to make it more equitable for all the municipalities.

Wight said the tax increase would affect all taxpayers if the county were allowed to borrow against the tax revenue.

“Why can’t it go back to the municipalities and no one will get less than 15 percent – Canton and Clyde would get a raise,” he suggested. Wight would like to see Maggie Valley get back the 55 percent it collects in the occupancy tax and give the other municipalities 15 percent each. Waynesville/Lake Junaluska currently collects about 37 percent of the occupancy tax.

Al Matthews reminded him that the tax money has to go back to the Tourism Development Authority by law.

“And this is not about ballparks. Yes, we have facts and figures on ballparks but this is one of many eligible brick and mortar projects,” he said.

County Commissioner Kevin Ensley said getting the additional revenue from tourists who use local infrastructure and services when they visit was the best way to go. “And in turn, we’re giving them something they can do when they are here,” he said.

Mike Matthews said the hotel owners were against the legislation.

Maggie Alderman Saralyn Price said the owners with the majority of the rooms were in favor of it.

“They aren’t paying it. They are collecting it,” Al Matthews said.

“Well, if you don’t need my vote you can go around me like you already tried to do,” Wight said.

The vote to send a letter of support to Davis passed 19-2 with Wight and Mike Matthews opposed.

In other business, the COG approved a resolution to support six bills that would help law enforcement officers in the battle against prescription drugs and synthetic drugs.

Commissioner Mike Sorrells thanked those involved in getting the bills introduced, including Maggie Valley resident Jim Blythe and Jean Parris who made presentations to the county and all the municipalities about the drug epidemic. He motioned to pass the resolution and it passed with only Wight opposing.

Wight said he agreed with four of the bills, but wanted more time to read over the legislation. With no written agenda, he said he felt “ambushed” on the issue.

“I didn’t know this was going to be presented,” he said.

Parris said every official had the opportunity to come to the “Drugs in Our Midst” workshops to learn about it.