Haywood County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Lynn Collins has been making the rounds like a travelling saleswoman lately — pitching a room occupancy tax increase to anyone who will listen.
Brandon Rogers almost certainly disappointed — and surprised — many of his supporters during Monday’s Haywood County Commissioners meeting. Apparently that discomforting politician’s habit of saying one thing and then doing something completely different once in office has now reached down to the local level.
Rogers, a Republican, is the newly elected county commissioner who earned the most votes in the November election. He worked hard during the campaign, expressed his position clearly on several important issues, and is a likeable guy. He undoubtedly benefitted from the Donald Trump tidal wave that swept a lot of GOP and independent voters to the polls, but that’s the electoral reality of 2016. Chances are he would have won even without the Trump coattails.
A renewed effort to increase Haywood County’s room occupancy tax from 4 to 6 percent has already run into almost as much opposition as it has in previous years, calling into question its chances of passage in the state legislature.
Every few years, elected officials at the local and county levels of government dribble the ball down the court, passing it back and forth while advancing toward the hoop with the kind of unselfish teamwork that usually results in an easy layup.
Supporters of a proposed hike in Haywood County’s room occupancy tax were silenced in the state legislature in 2013, but much noise was again made over the issue during the recent election. Now, with new players in place and old adversaries entrenched, is there a chance a room tax hike could pass?
A dozen hotels, motels and tourist accommodations in Haywood County will have to open their books to auditors in coming months to prove they aren’t pocketing some of the room taxes they collect.
Illuminated neon lettering indicated full occupancy on many of the hotels in Maggie Valley during the Fourth of July weekend.
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“No Vacancy” signs translate into dollar signs for accommodation owners as well as all the other businesses in the valley. Despite Ghost Town in the Sky not opening this year, Soco Road traffic was bumper to bumper, every parking lot was packed and tourists lined the sidewalks on Saturday evening waiting for the fireworks to begin.
Critics of tourism-related economic development in Haywood County have joined forces with a conservative think tank from Raleigh to question the underlying premise of county travel and tourism agencies — namely, should they exist?
“Is that legitimate? Is that a core function of government?” posed Becki Gray, an analyst with the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh.
A tourism tax increase in Haywood County has virtually no hope of advancing in the N.C. General Assembly this year, but some of its supporters seem reluctant to fold.
Town and county leaders have implored state legislators to green light a tourism tax increase since this time last year. Hiking the tax on overnight lodging from 4 cents to 6 cents would bring in half a million extra dollars a year for tourism coffers and would be earmarked for building or expanding tourism attractions.
After oscillating on the issue last year, Maggie Valley town leaders have now endorsed a room tax hike in Haywood County that would raise more money for tourism projects, but its chances of passing muster with the N.C. General Assembly this year remain slim.