Waynesville board supports tourism tax hike

By Mary Ann Enloe | Mar 04, 2013
Photo by: File photo Crowds flock to events in the county, and tourism leaders want to provide even more for visitors to do by concentrating on capital improvement projects.

Waynesville's governing board voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of raising the occupancy tax Haywood County by an additional 2 percent.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority and county commissioners have asked the four municipalities in Haywood County to adopt resolutions urging the N.C. General Assembly to pass local legislation allowing accommodation owners in the county to collect a 6 percent rather than four percent occupancy tax, with the additional funds earmarked for capital improvement projects.

Surrounding counties such as Jackson, Swain, Buncombe and Henderson already have an occupancy tax of 6 percent.

Ken Stahl, TDA Board member, spoke to the need:

"We've done as much as we can do with the money we have to increase tourism," he told Mayor Gavin Brown and the board.

Occupancy tax, historically used to promote "heads in beds," is a levy added to the tab for all overnight stays at hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, and inns. Each 1 percent produces approximately $225,000 in revenue annually. The additional 2 percent should generate about $450,000 per year or $1.35 in total occupancy tax annually.

Funds collected through the extra tax would be held separately, and proposals for capital improvements would be reviewed by members on a newly created Tourism Product Development Fund. Projects would have to demonstrate the potential to significantly increase room nights in Haywood County and the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority would have the ultimate say on how the funds were parceled out.

Alderman Julia Freeman asked Stahl if hotel and motel owners had been engaged in discussions about the additional tax, since those businesses are the ones that collect it.

"Yes, yes," said Stahl. "The (county) commissioners met with folks from Maggie Valley and only a few hands went up as having concerns about it."

The Canton governing board unanimously approved the additional tax and the proposal was tabled in Clyde until more information was provided. While the resolution was fiercely debated in Maggie Valley, the board of alderman failed to reach a decision after a motion to reject it failed on a 2 to 2 vote.

Brown said before Waynesville's Tuesday vote that he didn't have a problem with it.

"I'm proposing that we invest in our community," he said. "Sometimes you have to help yourself."

N.C. Sen. Jim Davis has agreed to introduce the enabling legislation allowing for the increased tax in the Senate, and N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen will be the primary sponsor in the House.

Lake Junaluska-Waynesville consolidation

No action was taken in further discussion about Lake Junaluska's request for Waynesville to incorporate the religious retreat into Waynesville town limits.

"I think we just need to wait until somebody comes to us," said Alderman Wells Greeley. "And I'd like to see what happens with the surveys."

Results of surveys sent to Lake Junaluska property owners will be made public at the Lake Junaluska Assembly Board of Directors meeting scheduled next week. The meeting is open to the public.

N. C. Sen. Jim Davis has said he will introduce any bill both entities support.

In other business,

• the board received the annual presentation from Downtown Waynesville Association executive director Buffy Phillips and DWA president Melanee Lester.

Phillips pointed to successes such as partnering with a variety of groups.

"I'm always impressed when I see how much DWA does," said Alderman Gary Caldwell. "These events and festivals have put us on the map."

• the town authorized the tax department to advertise 2012 deliquent tax accounts in the local newspaper sometime in March.

Waynesville governing board meetings are held each second and fourth Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall unless otherwise announced. Meetings are open to the public.