Majority in Maggie Valley support occupancy tax hike

Board apologizes for TDA appointment process
By Jessi Stone | Mar 11, 2014

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.”

Comments (9)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 11, 2014 21:44

It's telling Mayor DeSimone would make a statement, "the town's representative should represent the interest of the board and not lodging owners or residents" and then later appologize for the methods of forcing an action in "other business".  I believe Robert Edwards has the best view of the situation with the elected leaders of Maggie Valley.

 

This tax increase is just a bad idea: Buncomb wants Haywood to bump it up so that they can do the same.  Once Bumcomb raises their tax, Haywood will again say other counties have "more" and we'll be doing this again in a few years.  Everyone in government wants "more".  Taxpayers and business owners do not.

 

If the TDA were to dissolve and the 4% tax eliminated, would we really miss the youtube videos?  If the TDA gets another $500,000/year, how much will they take out of that for salaries and administrative overhead before spending what's left of the tax revenue?  The ones that stand to benefit from the increased revenue are the ones that fight so hard to force this tax increase!

 

(By the way, a well-written article, Ms. Stone.)



Posted by: Phillip Wight | Mar 12, 2014 21:41

If the monies were to return to Maggie Valley it has to be split with the Municipalities. The county wouldn't receive any.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 13, 2014 09:58

Mr. Wight, so it sounds like you're concerned that while Maggie Valley gets to keep ~$137,000, but ~$688,000 sent to Haywood County is the part that's not attractive to you.

 

There are more voters in Haywood County outside of Maggie Valley who can vote those funds away from Maggie Valley for use in other towns.  That's a Democratic system for you -- majority rules!  Just a reminder, a Republic should protect everyone equally -- folks in Maggie and hotel owners included.  Democrats and Republicans ought to predictably look at this circumstance like that and hold a debate in those frames of reference.  It's the white elephant in the room!



Posted by: Allen Alsbrooks | Mar 13, 2014 17:56

No, that's not correct. I'm not sure where you're math is coming from but the proposed 2% is expected to generate only $450,000 (approx) from the pockets of our tourists. What are you talkiing about?

Some of us would prefer that any increased tax collection from our tourists be given back to the "zip codes" or municipalities where it's collected for their benefit. Others don't want it collected at all. Then you have the loudest voices, the county commissioners, who want it for public works projects. Which the vocal majority just can't fathom.

Did you know Macon County just approved spending $3,000,000 to build ballfields on 48 acres of land they bought last year? Macon County is using money from savings and a loan of $1,800,000 to build their park. Why can't the commissioners do that?  Oh, their land purchase was two times the size of the Haywood purchase yet projected to cost half of what Haywood anticipates spending.

Our commissioners have stated the ball parks built in Haywood County won't cost county tax payers anything. Yet, Macon County states their facility will cost $166,000 to operate and maintain each year.  How is it that a complex built in Haywood County won't incur operating and maintenance expenses but a complex in Macon County will?  That's just lying at it's best. I have been an accountant for the past 25 years and I can't reconcile Macon County numbers and the magical zero expense figures Haywood County commissioners keep spouting.

While I agree something should be done to make our valley and county more attractive to tourists I don't see where $450,000 per year is going to do it. We need to go big and I don't see where our commissioners have the balls to do that. 

You want to develop that sports complex on Jonathan Creek... do it.  But be realistic and be prepared to spend millions, not just a few hundred thousand here and there.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 13, 2014 19:41

Mr. Alsbrooks, I accept any friendly corrections to my numbers as I am just throwing together a high-level estimate I tried to put together.  (As a non-accountant.)

 

Approximate take for existing 4% tax: $1,000,000

Proposed 50% tax increase (4% to 6%): $500,000

Total Take after proposed increase (6%): $1,500,000

Somewhere I heard 55% of the total comes from Maggie Valley: $825,000

1/6 of total sent back to Maggie Valley (1% of 6%): $137,500

5/6 of total sent to Haywood County (5% of 6%): $687,500

Please correct any of my math or logic.

 

Living in Waynesville and not owning a hotel business, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Being a believer in a Republic form of government, I can't support a voting-mob-majority that takes money this way from a minority.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 13, 2014 20:14

Taking this concept and exaggerating it, it's not a far stretch to make this comparison:

 

The "Scott Lilly Non-Profit Company" proposes all bakeries in Haywood County pay a 5% tax to my company.  In return, I'll pay off the town officials who make this a law by sending them a kick-back of 1% to do what they wish.  And I'll take 95% of my "income" and spend it on my salary and some perks and spend the remaining 5% on something for the town and give credit to the wonderful government officials that helped make someone's dream come true.  All I have to do is convince state government to let me do it -- and dag nab bit, there's just one representative that won't let me!

 

That's not too unlike this TDA strategy.



Posted by: Allen Alsbrooks | Mar 13, 2014 23:09

Oh boy if we could get that hypothetical through Raleigh! That would be an awesome thing! You're right, Maggie Valley has historically collected the lions share fo the Occupancy Tax, as much as 55% during the tourist season. I can only dream of the awesome projects we could tackle in Maggie Valley with that huge pile of tax dollars. There wouldn't be one speck of dirt or run down building from one end of town to the other.

Unfortunately, as the law is written now, 3% of what is collected now is only distributed by the committee for county wide "tourism related projects"  (wink, wink: nudge, nudge) and the additional 1% is allowed to be distributed by the ZIP Code 1% committees. It would take a lot of butt kissing to get that law changed. I don't have enough chap stick.



Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Mar 14, 2014 09:13

               OUR Founders were adamant that no buisness be forced to support another buisness. James Madison was quite clear in Federalist No. 10, if anyone care to read it. Buisnesses not contributing in taxes to support "tourism industry" but yet themselves profiting from it, are gaining an advantage they did not pay for.

                        Proposed "ball field" should be publicly supported from general funds, not just "tourism" as it bennefits the general public and not just tourists.

                         TDA should be disbanded. As Haywood counties biggest draw is the beauty of Mother Nature, County Commishioners could handle placing a few(a very few) adds with little money or time invested, as Haywood County is between several better-off counties with large draws, whereby Haywood bennefits greatly from passers-by, let this continue.

                       It goes without saying that private tourism industry should and does support itself with adds. We the people should not have to support private industry, especially if that industry is in conflict or direct competition with another; or in any case playing favorites.

 

                         C.Z.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 14, 2014 12:23

"As Haywood counties biggest draw is the beauty of Mother Nature" -- I've heard those in the business of hosting tourists suggest otherwise.  But *I* agree that the most attractive thing about Haywood County is the natural beauty with just the right amount of population and civilization.  If you want big-spending items, that's another place: like Buncombe county -- who rumor has it is ready to increase their TDA funding in part as a result of Haywood increasing our TDA funding.  Whatever we build here, Buncombe can build bigger and better.  They will only do so if whatever we build works.  So if we build something and it's a flop, we own that liability.  If we build something and it is a success, others will take it from us.

 

Bigger is not always better.  Buncombe County can't get smaller than us, they can't get more un-spoiled than us, and they can't de-populate their traffic and congestion.  Long gone are the Belle Chere festivals where I rode a hayride with the other 3,000 people that attended what felt like an overgrown farmer's market.  No more are the Saturday night Shin Dig on the Green gatherings where maybe 200 people came to watch what now is successfully done at the Haywood County Courthouse.  And what started as a few hip places in downtown Asheville to have dinner and a drink has turned into a bar crawl environment that the most ambitious college kid can't complete!  No, my small hometown of yesteryear is evolved into an unrecognizable metropolis.  I hope Haywood County embraces what makes small-town mountain living a unique treasure.  It's why I will consider myself "lucky" to retire here.



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