Majority in Maggie Valley support occupancy tax hikeBoard apologizes for TDA appointment process
Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen approved a letter to support increasing Haywood County’s occupancy tax from 4 percent to 6 percent to fund tourism- related infrastructure projects.
The letter drafted to Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, includes support from all of the municipalities in Haywood County. The vote to approve the letter passed with a 4-1 vote — Alderman Phillip Wight still opposes the proposed legislation. His motion to deny the letter died for lack of a second.
“It’s putting a lot of pressure on Sen. (Jim) Davis in an election year,” Wight said.
He said it was interesting that officials in Buncombe County had been putting pressure on Davis to get the legislation passed, claiming Buncombe wanted to use Haywood as an example before it tried to increase the occupancy tax there. While he would be in favor of bringing the money back to Maggie Valley, he's not in favor of dividing the money between the municipalities.
“It’s a bad plan. It might take us a few years to figure it out but it’s a bad plan,” Wight said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Karen Hession, president of the Maggie Valley Lodging Association, expressed opposition to the legislation. She said she was disappointed that the 2 percent issue is coming up again considering the 38 members of her association were against it. She said the increase would negatively impact the lodging owners as well as restaurants and other businesses in the valley.
“All these people are saying don’t raise the tax,” she said. “I haven’t heard one good reason why we need it.”
No other discussion was had before Alderman Mike Eveland made a motion to approve the letter. The board voted in favor with a 4-1 vote.
In other business, Mayor Ron DeSimone issued an apology on behalf of the board for the action it took at its last meeting to replace the town’s appointment to the Tourist Development Authority. Though the item was not on the agenda, the board approved ousting its representative Robert Edwards and voted to recommend appointing Eveland to the TDA.
Wight was the only aldermen to oppose the action because it had not been discussed with Edwards and wasn't on the agenda. Edwards said he was not contacted by any official regarding the appointment.
DeSimone said the board’s decision was necessary, “but in retrospect, we realize the process could have been carried out in a more appropriate manner. We apologize, and we’ll try to do better in the future.”
Edwards, owner of The Holiday Motel, then read a prepared statement to the board during public comment. He said he was disappointed in the actions of the board and the mayor for the way they handled the town’s TDA appointment. He said he was confident that he served on the TDA with integrity with the best interest of the town in mind — but he couldn’t say the same for his elected officials.
“Your choice to play snake in the grass politics reveals your lack of integrity and calls into question your board’s rectitude as an elected official body,” Edwards said.
Had the aldermen or mayor called to discuss the issue with Edwards, he said it probably could have been worked out, but instead, the board chose to make the decision without any input. Edwards said he supported the 2 percent occupancy tax bill, but he also questioned whether it was the best plan.
“So it is clear to me now. The problem this town board has with me evolves around the fact that I speak up for those voices in our community that are chosen to be dismissed by your board,” he said.
Beth Brown, a TDA board member, also expressed her disappointment with the board. She said she had served with Edwards on the TDA and he had been a great asset by actively participating in discussions and asking the right questions.
“This was a knee-jerk reaction on your part, and I don’t know what you can do to fix this,” she said. “We would love to have you all at the (TDA) meetings. I haven’t seen one of you attend those meetings but you are welcome to come and get your questions answered.”