“The only way to get a majority opinion is to go out and talk to people,” DeSimone said. “I am not just guessing or looking at my sphere of influence.”
But Maggie Alderman Philip Wight disagrees with DeSimone’s claim. A lodging owner himself, he questioned DeSimone’s methodology. DeSimone’s so-called majority was calculated by the number of rooms a hotel and motel has — not the number of individual lodging businesses, Wight said.
“He basically went to the big boys,” Wight said. In other words, the tax might be supported of a handful of big hotels with dozens of rooms, but what about the myriad smaller cabins, motor courts and B&Bs with just a few rooms?
He said it was disingenuous for DeSimone to speak on behalf of the community.
“He had no mandate to carry a torch for Maggie Valley,” said Wight, who also journeyed to Raleigh last week as part of a Maggie delegation participating in “Town Hall” lobbying day.
Increasing the overnight room tax from 4 cents to 6 cents would raise an extra $450,000 a year. It would be dedicated solely to construction and development of tourist destinations, such as sports tournament complexes, event venues or private attractions.
Brenda O’Keeffe, owner of the wildly popular Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie Valley, said the tourism industry needs new attractions to grow visitors.
“We need money to accomplish it,” O’Keeffe said, citing the room tax as the answer.
O’Keeffe disagrees that a 6 cent versus 4 cent room tax will drive away tourists.
“When I go travel places, I don’t freak out over the occupancy tax and say I am never going back,” O’Keeffe said.
The room tax increase has been supported by the Haywood County commissioners, the county tourism board and the town boards of Waynesville and Canton. Maggie leaders are split on the tax, however, as are some motel owners in the struggling tourism-centric town.
DeSimone said some of the noise is simply being propagated by anti-tax fundamentalists, however.
“The bulk of the naysayers have absolutely no stake in the tourism industry,” DeSimone said. “Some are just ideologically opposed to taxes, and I can understand that opinion, but this is a tax on a specific industry in order to advance that industry.”
Wight said ultimately the details of how the money would be spent and who would control it are the crux of concerns for most opponents.
“Can we slow it down and actually get in the room and negotiate?” Wight said.