Politics vs. reality sinks in for new commissioner

Feb 12, 2017

As local politics go, last week was a big one in Haywood.

Commissioners learned that, overall, property values in the county decreased, which means one of two things when it comes to budget decisions — tax rates go up or costs must come down. The same thing holds true for municipal leaders who will face a similar decision.

There are other variables, of course, such as whether increases from sales tax will make up for a downfall, or whether federal/state partnership arrangements will stay roughly the same, but given that 56 percent of the revenues in the county come from property taxes, values are a large part of the equation.

Two other issues at the county level that appear to be headed to Raleigh for an ultimate solution were also front and center last week. One included ending Haywood County’s distinction as having the only elected tax collector in the entire state. The other involved the ability of each county in the state to ask for the authority to levy an occupancy tax of up to 6 percent to help develop and promote tourism in their jurisdiction.

Newly elected Commissioner Brandon Rogers was squarely in the middle of atter two issues, asking for more public comment time on the tax collector resolution and voting against the occupancy tax he earlier pledged to support.

The Republican newcomer led the ticket, followed by Commissioner Kevin Ensley, when voters had a choice between two Democratic and two Republican candidates in November. Rogers campaigned extensively on a common-sense platform that seemingly appealed to voters from both parties. As Rogers is quickly learning, campaigning is different from governing, and following through on campaign promises can be hard when the promises are at cross-purposes.

One of Rogers’ main campaign themes was economic development. Another was pledging to not increase taxes unless absolutely necessary. The occupancy tax vote pitted the pledges against each other. As Commissioner Mike Sorrells, who serves on the county’s tourism development board emphasized, increasing tourism is economic development. Providing more things for visitors to do can increase length-of-stay, attract more people who will ultimately give Haywood a second look when it comes to a relocation site and increase the number of dollars circulating through the local economy.

A purist view on tax increases is one that considers all equal, whether they are on property, accommodations or various services and products. In the case of the occupancy tax, that’s far from true. Occupancy taxes are levied on people passing through the county, not living here. Local elected leaders are accountable to and held accountable by the local voters, not a generic class of taxpayers anywhere.

A viewpoint that puts taxpayers from  Atlanta, Charlotte or Durham in the same category as Haywood taxpayers can be a dangerous standard when it comes to putting local issues first.