Towns, county ready to take on Presnell
Despite N.C. Rep. Michele Presnell's opposition, Haywood County and its four towns are ready to resuscitate the occupancy tax hike issue.
In February 2013 Haywood County's Tourism Development Authority made its case for an additional 2 cents per dollar in room tax, upping the amount to 6 cents per dollar that visitors would pay to spend the night at any lodging establishment in Haywood County.
The $425,000 that would be generated by the increase must be used to promote projects which benefit tourism, and N.C.'s General Assembly has to give the county permission to raise the tax. Sen. Jim Davis (R-Franklin) introduced the bill in the N.C. Senate, but it languished when he pulled his support after talking with some folks in Maggie Valley who opposed it.
Davis reportedly now is back on board with the idea. At Monday night's Council of Government meeting in Clyde, an overflow crowd of county and town elected officials agreed to once again petition their legislative delegation to permit Haywood County to charge what many counties throughout the state already charge.
The Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen had two members opposing to the idea but that changed in November when the election changed the make-up of the town board. Now, Alderman Phillip Wight is the only board member in Maggie who still opposes the occupancy tax increase.
Maggie Valley Aldermen Saralyn Price suggested that County Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick try to talk to Wight to get him to change his mind on the issue.
"We're ready to bring a resolution in favor of it," said Maggie Mayor Ron DeSimone. "I believe there is a consensus of support now."
"At present I am still opposed to the 2 percent occupancy tax increase. This tax is flawed and seems like an attempt to circumvent the municipalities at a county level to which I feel will cost Haywood County taxpayers," Wight said on Thursday. "The only discussion I have heard recently is lets get the money and then we will decide how to spend it. So we obviously don't need it."
Officials agreed that the district's legislative delegation should be invited to the March COG meeting in Canton. At that time Sen. Davis and Reps. Presnell and Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, will be presented with resolutions requesting the increase.
County Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick said he wants to be sure that everyone agrees on the makeup of the administering board, which is a committee of the TDA. That was a sticking point in earlier discussions, along with the question of exactly how the money would be used.
"I don't think we ought to get caught up in the specifics of projects," said Canton Mayor Mike Ray. "Let's just get the bill passed. Things have changed so much since the beginning of this."
County Commissioner Kevin Ensley, the lone Republican among an elected board with a majority of Democrats, made the point that both Republicans and Democrats on appointed boards support the bill.
"Everybody seems to be for it — we've heard here tonight from the Recreation Advisory Committee, and the TDA and the EDC (Economic Development Commission) and others have already said it's needed."
The bill's wording has changed several times since the first draft. Canton's interim town manager Jason Burrell will send a copy from the General Assembly's website to towns and the county before resolutions are written. Canton will issue invitations to the legislative delegation.