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Wednesday, 22 June 2011 12:55

Back taxes on Ghost Town help fund festivals in Maggie

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Maggie Valley gave the thumbs up to a 2011-12 budget, voting 4-1 to approve the spending plan at a town board meeting last week.

The lone dissenter was Alderman Phil Aldridge, who opposed the budget because of its spending.

“I just think there’s been some excessive spending on the town’s level for the last number of years,” said Aldridge. “I know we’ve been in somewhat of a recession for the last three years, and I’ve seen other local municipalities cutting back on their budget and I just haven’t seen Maggie do that.”

This year, however, the town did face dwindling revenue of $135,000  that they had to make up in departmental trimming.

Town Manager Tim Barth said this was made easier since they saw the deficit coming and began planning for it in the spring.

The revenue dip was a two-fold problem, said Barth. One was lower property values following the county property revaluation. As a whole, property values dropped by 5.5 percent in Maggie, which in turn means less property tax.

The other is blamed on the census. Towns get a cut of state sales tax based on their population. The state estimates each town’s population in the intervening decade between counts. When the actual census came out this year, the state realized it was overestimating Maggie Valley’s population and it shouldn’t get as much sales tax.

Barth and his department heads gathered up around $149,000 in reductions they could make, though some of them were spared after talks with the town’s board.

When negotiations had finalized, the approved budget included some extra funds for the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds to subsidize two of its newer festivals, the Americana Roots and Beer Festival and July’s Red, White and Boom celebration, and an additional $9,000 annually to make Festival Grounds Director Audrey Hager a full-time worker.

Hager said she was appreciative of the recognition, but the raise just makes official the work she’s already been doing. Currently, Hager is only paid for 30 hours a week.

“It really just gets me paid for what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working 50, 60 hours a week anyway,” said Hager. “My plan remains the same: to try to sell to promoters the festival grounds of Maggie Valley.”

Barth said it was a measure aldermen thought was important, especially given the dearth of large attractions in the town this tourist season.

“With Ghost Town not being in business right now, they thought it was more important than ever to try to really market the festival ground and get events that will make a significant positive impact on the valley,” said Barth.

Ghost Town, however, has made a contribution to the town’s coffers — BB&T, the bank that now owns the defunct amusement park, shelled out a chunk of the back taxes owed to Maggie Valley.

That’s part of why Barth and some other aldermen are less concerned about the $54,522 that’s coming out of the fund balance to balance the budget.

Some of the town’s spending this year will go to town employees, who will all see a $1,000 raise. Part of that increase, though, will be offset by the $60,000 the town has saved by changing to Blue Cross Blue Shield for employee health insurance.

Alderwoman Danya Vanhook said that, overall, she was proud of the town for coming out with a balanced budget.

“Nobody’s getting fired or laid off and we’re not increasing taxes. It’s a win-win,” Vanhook told audience members at the public budget hearing.

Copies of the budget are available at the Maggie Valley Town Hall.

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