Occupancy tax gets approvals

By Allison Richmond | Feb 15, 2017
The Tiki Bar at Maggie Valley Inn is a big draw for summer tourism, money from which could go to benefit local projects if the occupancy fee increase is approved.

In a move that brings the region a step closer to reenergizing the tourism industry, town leaders in Maggie Valley and Waynesville unanimously passed a resolution in support of the proposed occupancy tax fee increase.

According to research presented by Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, Maggie Valley, in fact all of Haywood County, is missing out on tourism dollars that other counties are capitalizing on.

She said that other tourism hotspots like Asheville and Gatlinburg average a higher daily hotel rate and already have occupancy tax rates around the proposed 6 percent, opposed to Haywood’s 4 percent fee.

If approved at the state level, visitors would see about $2 added to their daily room costs, she said.

The extra money raised would go directly to benefit Haywood County residents by returning the money to communities to build new facilities, such as parks, attractions, and economic development projects.

Maggie Valley Alderman Mike Eveland, who also sits on the TDA board, spoke in favor of the proposed occupancy fee increase, citing the much-needed improvements the money could fund.

“Maggie has already been able to do a lot with the TDA money, but we could do so much more,” he said.

“As a county we are way behind the times without this funding. This is brick and mortar stuff we are talking about, real structures and improvements that could be made, with tangible benefits.”

Another side benefit, he noted, is that using funding generated from tourism dollars frees up money from municipal budgets for capital projects that may otherwise go unfunded.

Under the new proposal that is making the rounds of the municipalities, 50 percent of the money raised, estimated at around $650,000 annually, would be returned directly to the local zips codes, much like the 1 percent funding is now.

The remaining 50 percent would go into a general TDA fund for capital improvements.

Groups looking for project funding could apply directly to the local funding allocations first and then to the general fund for the use of the whole county for larger projects.

Referencing the failed attempt to move a similar action forward a few years ago, Collins said, “We’re getting left behind by neighboring areas in terms of funding, We’ve already lost out on a few years of being able to build this fund, so here we are again.”

After more than a year of revamping the proposal, it was recently approved by the TDA board. The board of county commissioners recently passed a resolution in support of it by a vote of 4-1, with Brandon Rogers dissenting.

From there it went to the Town of Canton, which, like Maggie and Waynesville, also approved a resolution supporting it.

Waynesville Alderman Jon Feichter called the fee increase, "absolutely critical."

"We are operating with one hand tied behind our back without it," he said.

Only Clyde remains to decide if it will support the proposal, then it moves to local state representatives for sponsorship in Raleigh.

Only if passed at the state level will the county be eligible to implement an occupancy fee increase.