Maggie Valley mulls tax hike

Hoteliers want 2 percent to come to Maggie
By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Feb 26, 2013
Photo by: Jessi Stone PRESENTING A PLAN — Robert Edwards, Tourism Development Authority board member and owner of The Holiday Motel, explains the process of getting the additional 2 percent occupancy tax implemented.

Maggie Valley Town Hall was packed Monday night for a special-called meeting to discuss Haywood county Commissioners’ intentions to introduce legislation that would enable the county to increase the occupancy tax to 6 percent.

Aldermen Mike Matthews and Phillip Wight called the meeting to receive input from the community about the tax increase before making a decision on whether to pass a resolution supporting the effort.

Mayor Ron DeSimone called for a vote at the end of the meeting, but Wight said he wanted more questions answered before he could consider voting to support it.

“If y’all want a unanimous vote, it won’t be tonight,” he said.

Before opening up the meeting for public comment, DeSimone said he had a meeting with two county commissioners to discuss his concerns about the proposal.

“This proposal is to enable a tax to be implemented — it’s not an implementation of anything,” he said. One concern he shared was that Maggie should have more representation on the proposed Product Development Committee that will be evaluating project proposals since the town collects more than 50 percent of the tax.

If all the municipalities sign a resolution supporting the increase from 4 to 6 percent, DeSimone said local legislators will present a bill to allow the additional tax, but the tax won’t be implemented until the stakeholders agree upon a plan.


Those in opposition


Karen Hession, president of the Maggie Valley Lodging Association, said a majority of MVLA members were opposed to the tax increase. The organization unanimously passed a motion on Feb. 22 to oppose the proposed legislation as written.

“In addition, we feel that the bill, as proposed, is being fast tracked without adequate research as to its implementation and impact,” she said.

DeSimone clarified that the proposed legislation had not even been written yet.

“All you’ve seen is an outline on how it could be implemented based on what Buncombe County did,” he said.

Hession also questioned how the plan to improve sports arenas in the county would benefit Maggie Valley.

Desimone said the sports complexes were just one idea for using the additional tax revenue.

Many other bed-tax collectors said they would support the 2-percent increase if the money would come straight to Maggie Valley. Hotel owners felt like Maggie should receive a majority of the money because it produces about 55 percent of the bed-tax collections.

“I was told the reason we should do this is because we’ll have a bigger pool of money to pull from when people apply for projects,” said Tammy White with the Clarketon Motel. “But we supply 55 percent of the pot. A quarter of a million dollars could do a lot for Maggie Valley.”

“We’re trying to be a team player for Haywood County,” DeSimone said.

Joanne Martin, owner of Fireside Cottages, said there were a lot of unanswered questions and that a marketing plan should be in place to put heads in beds before the tax was increased.

DeSimone said the first step was to get the legislation passed to allow the tax before working out a specific plan “because you might be making a plan that may never happen” if the General Assembly doesn’t pass the bill.

Mandy Hartline, owner of Stony Creek Motel, told the board not to support the tax because businesses were struggling to survive.

“I’m barely hanging on and I’ve worked hard,” she said as she began to cry.


Those supporting the tax


Beth Brown, a TDA board member and owner of vacation rentals in Maggie, said Maggie used to bring in 60 percent of the bed tax revenue but the amount continued to decrease. But by putting all the money into one pot, she said “we’ll all have the same opportunity to go after the money whether we’re pulling in more money or not.”

Wight said he would still want the revenue produced by Maggie to come back to the town even if it was 30 percent.

Alderman Saralyn Price said Maggie wouldn’t be able to borrow additional money to complete a large project if the 2 percent came directly to the town. However, the county would be able to get a loan for a project to pay back over time.

Robert Edwards, TDA board member and owner of The Holiday Motel, said his head was spinning when he first heard about the proposal in a TDA meeting. However, he said the tax wouldn’t be collected until all the municipalities and stakeholders sit down and work out an implementation plan. In the meantime, he said Maggie Valley needed to communicate its plan to commissioners to ensure Maggie receives fair representation on the committee.

Lynn Collins, TDA executive director, said the process would be similar to when the tax was increased to 4 percent — the legislation was passed and then a lot of meetings were held to discuss how it would be spent.

DeSimone encouraged residents and hotel owners to work together instead of working against the rest of the county.

“It’s time to stop playing tug-of-war and start pulling on the same end of the rope,” he said.

Matthews said he would only support it if the board could attach stipulations to the resolution, including more representation on the Product Development Committee.

Price said she supported it because Maggie Valley could really benefit from it more than anyone else in the county.

“I just feel like we weren’t at the table,” Wight said. “There are questions we don’t even get to ask because of the timeline… deep down I cant vote for it.”

The board will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, to take a vote on the issue.