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Wednesday, 27 March 2013 13:06

Maggie Valley contingent vehemently opposed to proposed room tax hike

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A faction of lodging owners in Maggie Valley is hoping to derail a tax increase on overnight accommodations.

The money brought in — roughly $450,000 a year — would be dedicated solely to building tourism attractions or improving existing ones.

 

“It creates a whole new set of Haywood County destinations,” said County Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger.

But some Maggie hotel and motel owners think it would hurt more than help. While the tax would purportedly go toward projects to bring more tourists — and thus more business for motel and hotel owners — some lodging owners claim the additional tax would instead drive tourists away. And that’s the last thing Maggie needs.

“This town is dying. People are going out of business like you wouldn’t believe,” said Karen Hession, owner of Misty Mountain Ranch Bed and Breakfast. “The economy is so poor in Maggie and almost everybody would sell their place if they had a buyer.”

A state bill enacting the room tax has been temporarily sidelined after debate broke out between competing tourism destinations in Haywood County over the tax.  

Swanger said opponents to the tax in Maggie Valley are ironically the very ones who stand to gain the most from new tourist attractions being funded.

“It is shortsighted to arbitrarily be against something than to put forth effort to be for something that will be help,” Swanger said.

Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, agreed.

“The tourism industry needs a shot in the arm and certainly Maggie Valley does. This is an effort to help them rebound,” Queen said. “This builds jobs and underpins our tourism economy.”

Not all Maggie Valley lodging owners are against the tax. Some are for it. But it has been hard to determine so far how many are in which camp, other than anecdotal claims.

“Everybody feels it would do more harm than good,” Hession said. “We need more attractions, but the solution isn’t taxes. No one is for it.”

What is the solution? Hession said she didn’t have one at the moment. 

The pot of funding from the room tax increase would be doled out by a specially-appointed board. But exactly how seats on the board will be divvied up has proved the most contentious issue.

Maggie Valley wants the majority of the seats.

“If they pass it I damn well would want to see that money go to Maggie Valley, not all over the county because Maggie needs it the most. We always felt like we were the stepchild,” Hession said.

The rest of the county has agreed to give Maggie more seats than any other part of the county, but not as many as Maggie might want.

Currently, 55 percent of the overnight lodging tax collected countywide is collected from the Maggie Valley area.

But just because Maggie Valley historically is home to more hotels and motels than the rest of the county doesn’t necessarily mean it deserves credit for every person that beds down there.

“You don’t come to Haywood County to visit a mattress,” Queen said. “You come to visit Wheels Through Time, to come to a conference at Lake Junaluska, to visit downtown Waynesville, to go to our great festivals, to visit our craft shops, to go skiing.”

“People tend to go to venues and attractions and then chose a motel,” said Canton Town Manager Al Matthews. “They don’t chose a motel and then say, ‘Oh by the way since I am in Charlotte and say they are going to take in the Coca-Cola 600.’”

A tug-of-war over tourism tax dollars is nothing new in Haywood County. For nearly three decades — since the room tax was first put in place — similar turf battles have repeatedly surfaced.

Robert Edwards, owner of A Holiday Motel in Maggie Valley, said he thinks Maggie would benefit from any new tourist attraction in the county — regardless of where it was built.

“People aren’t coming to Maggie to do strictly those things that are found within our town limits,” said Edwards, who recently was appointed to the county tourism board. “The majority are here to enjoy the region. They are using Maggie Valley as their home base.”

Edwards said with the right assurances the Maggie tourism community would support the idea.

“I have a feeling that the majority who are opposed aren’t necessarily opposed to having a tax hike. They are opposed to some of the details pertaining to the implementation of the tax,” Edwards said. 

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