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Wednesday, 01 May 2013 01:16

Window is closing for stalled room tax increase in Haywood

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A state bill that would raise Haywood County’s lodging tax is still sitting idly in committee in Raleigh with no signs of going up for a vote soon in the General Assembly.

 

The bill has until May 16 to pass the Senate; otherwise, it will die in committee, and the county will have to wait two years before putting up a similar piece of legislation.

“If it is going to make it, it needs to make it now,” said Ken Stahl, the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority board’s finance chair.

Specifically, the bill asks for permission to increase the county’s lodging tax from 4 percent to 6 percent. The tax is tacked onto the cost of an overnight stay in a Haywood County accommodation, and the proceeds are used to promote the county as a vacation destination and fund tourism initiatives.

The additional 2 percent, however, would be set aside expressly for tourism-related capital projects. The extra 2 percent would focus on broadening attractions in Haywood County in an attempt to attract more people to the area.

By allowing the bill to die, business owners “shoot themselves in the foot because that is the smartest thing they can do to hurt their own business,” said Canton Town Manager Al Matthews, who serves on the TDA board.

Although supporters of the increase have tossed around the idea of a sports complex in Jonathan Creek, which the county purchased land for in 2007 but has yet to build, TDA board members mentioned at a recent meeting that projects such as an ice-skating rink in Maggie Valley would also be good candidates for funding if the 2 percent increase was enacted.

Maggie Valley leaders have looked into an ice-skating rink, which could draw tourists to the valley and give them another winter activity in addition to skiing at Cataloochee.

“It sounds like a 2 percent project for me,” Matthews said. 

TDA board member and Maggie Valley Restaurant owner James Carver didn’t see why the bill shouldn’t move on when all the elected county and town leaders in the county are for it — with the lone exception of two Maggie Valley aldermen.

“We have two individuals who oppose it, and they oppose it because they don’t understand it,” Carver said. “The 2 percent is a gold mine.”

The bill cannot move forward, however, without the support of Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, who has maintained that he wants everyone in agreement — including outliers in Maggie Valley — to be on board before he would usher it to passage.

Opponents of the tax increase have argued that the added cost would deter potential lodging customers and penalize lodging owners. They have also questioned whether a sports complex would actually draw people.

Teams from surrounding areas such as Knoxville play in tournaments monthly at the baseball fields in Canton. Although Samuel Carver, owner of Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa and TDA board member, had families stay in his establishment during a tournament this month, others said they did not receive any calls from teams.

“I didn’t get a phone call,” said Lyndon Lowe, owner of Cabins and RV’s at Twinbrook Resort in Maggie Valley.

Other board members said part of the problem could be that people don’t realize how close Maggie Valley is. They also suggested that chambers of commerce or lodging associations attend the tournaments and hand out lists of accommodations and things to do in Haywood County to maximize the number of people staying in the county.

Currently, some team members and their families stay just over the county line in Buncombe.

People don’t see the benefit of a baseball complex right now. But if they did, their tune would change, said TDA board member Beth Brown. 

“It’s not going to be a shove down the throat for these ball fields; it will be ‘Yeah, bring it on,’” Brown said.

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