The study committee is the commissioners’ response to an unprecedented level of controversy surrounding the tourism authority, which controls more than $600,000 in tourism tax dollars collected through a tax on overnight lodging. By law, the money must be used to promote tourism, but the tourism authority decides how best to do that.
The commissioners want the study committee to explore the tourism authority’s structure and whether there is a better way. The county commissioners, who appoint tourism authority board members, could restructure the organization if they chose. Haywood County was one of the first in the state to create a tourism authority in the early 1980s, according to Chip Killian, attorney for the county and tourism authority.
“Ours is one of the first generation,” Killian said. “Quite frankly the structure and legislation has been improved since then. There are clearer structures out there.”
The tourism authority board welcomes the study, according to Ken Stahl, tourism board member.
“We want to get it right, and whatever it takes or any changes that need to be made we will cooperate.”
The commissioners agreed to come up with a list of names for the committee between now and its next meeting on July 10.
“My only concern is to find impartial people to serve on this committee. By impartial I mean none of the players in this current controversy,” Stahl told commissioners.
Commissioners agreed. Swanger said the names should be people who are not involved in the tourism industry and have nothing to gain or lose from getting their hands on the tourism tax dollars.
Meanwhile, another study committee comprised of one elected official from each town was formed at the urging of Maggie Valley, which has long been displeased with the tourism authority. Maggie Valley tourism interests believe they are entitled to a greater share of the tourism tax dollars.
The county commissioners were invited to participate in the towns’ study, but have so far declined. The commissioners felt the committee of elected officials sanctioned by the towns was not comprehensive enough nor impartial. Since commissioners have the ultimate say over whether and how to restructure the tourism authority, they wanted to commission their own committee.