Tourism tax increase on a fast-track
Haywood County tourism and local government leaders are poised to act on an idea they have been kicking around for years — funding economic development projects that will attract tourists.
At a meeting Friday, the executive committee of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority recommended that an additional 1 percent be tacked on to the occupancy tax currently collected by overnight accommodation owners in the county.
At the full TDA board meeting Monday, the suggested amount was upped to 2 percent, which will bring the tourism tax up to a total of 6 percent, the maximum allowed under state law.
The amount is expected to generate an additional $450,000 annually that could be used to complete sports complexes or other projects that will attract tourists to the community.
Alice Aumen, TDA board chairman, said it might appear as if the move came suddenly, but it is something that has been discussed extensively in the past.
“We had to move so fast because of legislative deadlines,” she said. “If we don’t have it ready to go by early in March, we’ll have to wait two years.”
The measure will require that the N.C. General Assembly pass a local bill, something that’s already been discussed with Rep. Sen. Jim Davis, who represents Haywood and other western counties in the legislature.
Aumen said the next few weeks will be spent bringing motel and other accommodation owners up to speed on the issue.
“This was done so quickly it might appear it was handled behind closed doors, but it really hasn’t been,” Aumen said, noting it was conversations at earlier meetings, both with TDA and in the community, that led to this moment.
Aumen said it was the county commissioners who encouraged the board to request an additional 2 percent tax.
The extra funds will be dedicated only to capital project development, and a separate 10-member board will be set up to help direct funds. The committee will consist of one member from each of the five zip code subcommittees (groups that direct how 1 percent of the existing tax within their area is spent); two members will be from the TDA board and three members will be from the county at large, one of which will be a member of the economic development committee.
“We started talking about sports complexes because they are such a huge income producing thing with all the families that attend,” Aumen said. “The commissioners don’t have money to do anything like that. With the occupancy tax, the visitor is paying. It’s like a use tax when you think about it.”
The issue will be discussed at the county commissioner retreat on Feb. 19, and today at the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce board, a meeting where accommodation owners are invited.
TDA board member and Canton Town Manager Al Matthews is pulling together the legislation details and Aumen hopes to have all governing boards in the community pass resolutions of support before the legislation’s filing deadline.
Leaders of two separate hotel/motel groups in the county say they were surprised by the announcement, though not necessarily opposed to it.
Carol Burrell, president of the Haywood County Hotel/Motel Association and owner of Maggie Valley Creekside Lodge, said while the proposal is a surprise, investing in infrastructure to draw tourists could have its economic advantages.
After today's meeting where some lodging owners will be hearing about the plan for the first time, Burrell said she would be sending out a questionnaire so owners could weigh in on the issue.
Sue Koziol, secretary-treasurer of the Maggie Valley Lodging Association, said while she personally is opposed to the idea, she couldn't say what association members think about it.
The group typically suspends meetings in the winter when many owners are gone, she said.
"I personally think there’s enough money from what we’re collecting already to do something more productive," she said. "We have to charge our guests 11 percent tax now with the sales tax and 4 percent occupancy tax. This will bring it up to 13 percent. People aren't traveling like they used to. The more you keep taxing them, I think it hurts."
Avery 6 percent
Buncombe 4 percent
Catawba 5 percent
Graham 3 percent
Haywood (current) 4 percent
Henderson 5 percent
Jackson 6 percent (approved but on hold_
McDowell 5 percent
Swain 4 percent
Transylvania 5 percent
Watauga 6 percent
The proposed Haywood tax increase was inspired by projects that Buncombe County was able to fund by dedicating a portion of its proceeds to capital projects.
John B. Lewis Soccer Complex at Azalea Park
Asheville Visitor Center
WNC Veterans’ Memorial Park at Pack Square Park
Buncombe County Civil War Trails
Pack Square Park
Pack Square Park Pavillion
Asheville Art museum
The Orange Peel
Asheville Civic Center
Smoky Mountain Adventure Center
Montford Park Players
Navitat Canopy Adventures