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Wednesday, 07 June 2006 00:00

Festival funding models vary among WNC counties

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As Haywood struggles with the best use of room tax money collected from tourists to fund tourism promotion, one area that raises the most ire is the amount given out as grants for festivals. Tourism authorities around Western North Carolina fund festivals with room tax dollars to varying degrees.

Haywood:

What: Collects a 3 percent room tax countywide.

Total room tax: $630,000. (This is the projection for the coming fiscal year, which is up from the current levels.)

Festivals and events: $24,500 or 3 percent. This represents a cut of about $15,000 over last year’s budget for festivals and events.

Jackson County

What: Collects a 3 percent room tax. Only gets 25 percent of what’s collected in Cashiers, however, which has its own tourism authority.

Total room tax: $270,200.

Festivals and events: $8,000 or 3 percent. Groups can apply for grants to advertise an event. The chamber of commerce does not compete for these funds to pay for their festivals, however.

“We have events that would qualify but we have not applied for (tourism authority) grants,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the chamber and the Travel and Tourism Association.

The chamber not only pays for its own events without tourism tax dollars, its also gives out grants to other groups throwing festivals.

“We give as much back to organizations and events in the county because that is part of what contributes to the great quality of life for the business owners and people who live and work here,” Spiro said.

Cashiers

What: Collects 3 percent on lodging in the Cashiers area. Keeps 75 percent to run its own tourism authority and gives 25 percent to the Jackson tourism authority.

Total room tax: $155,000

Festivals and events: $8,000 or 5 percent. Any group can apply for grants up to $1,000

Highlands

What: Collects 3 percent tax on lodging in the greater Highlands area. Funds are given directly to the Highlands Chamber of Commerce and spent how the chamber board pleases with no oversight from an independently appointed tourism board.

Total room tax: $214,000 or $246,000

Festivals and events: $24,600 or 10 percent. Of this, the chamber keeps $17,600 to put on its own events. The remaining $7,000 is made available for other entities. Different standards apply to the two pots of money. The chamber uses room tax money to help cover the cost of putting on its events. Other entities can’t use room tax money to defray the cost of putting on events, however, but only to advertise or promote the event.

Franklin

What: Collects 3 percent tax on lodging in Franklin and surrounding area. Contracts with Franklin Chamber of Commerce to run tourism promotions.

Total room tax: $160,000

Festivals and events: $35,000 or 22 percent. Grants are for advertising events that bring overnight tourists into the Franklin area.

“Some bring more and some don’t bring as many, but we think some have potential,” Linda Harbuck, executive director of the Franklin chamber, said of the events that get funding.

The festival budget used to be more until this year when county government began taking 15 percent instead of 5 percent as a processing fee for collecting, counting and handling the room tax coming in from hotels. The increase funded an audit intended to find out whether lodging owners were cheating.

Swain

What: Collects 3 percent tax on lodging countywide. Contracts with Swain Chamber of Commerce to run tourism promotions.

Total room tax: $200,000

Festivals and events: $30,000 or 15 percent. Of that, $22,000 is reserved for specific chamber events, such as the chili cook-off, Christmas parade or July 4th celebration, and for a weekly Saturday night bluegrass music program sponsored by the tourism authority itself. Other entities can apply for grants from the remaining $8,000, which have to be used solely on advertising the event.

Transylvania

What: Collects 4 percent room tax for all of Transylvania County.

Total room tax: $265,000

Festivals and events: $30,000 or 11 percent. This year, $15,000 will be reserved for festivals, and $15,000 will be for enhancement projects. Entities can submit grants for enhancement projects such as a water feature, cultural history kiosk, or art walk. Grants for festivals can’t exceed $2,000.

The chamber of commerce does not go after the grant money for their festivals, however. The chamber funds all its events out of its own chamber budget to maintain a level of seperation, Carden said.

Carden said that many communities are hampered by “turf battles.” She said there is a tendency for lodging owners to be possessive and see the tax as theirs, while the chamber tries to find a way to get the money for themselves.

Carden said she does not allow turf battles in Transylvania County but works to ensure everyone cooperates for the greater good.

Asheville:

What: Collects 4 percent room tax county-wide.

Total room tax: $4.6 million.

Festivals and events: $0

“We are obligated by law to market and brand the overall Asheville area,” said Kelly Miller, executive director and vice president of Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. “As we look at the overall mission of the Buncombe County tourism authority and realize competitors have many more dollars at their disposal to market their destinations, the board feels we need to spend as much as possible on direct media advertisements.”

Instead the tourism authority provides non-monetary support for events, such as listings and descriptions on on-line events calendar, twice a month e-newsletters, Web site links to festivals, and marketing advice.

Boone

What: Collects a 6 percent room tax in the town limits of Boone.

Total room tax: $365,000. (One-third of this goes to the town of Boone for enhancement projects, leaving $275,000 for tourism promotion.)

Festivals and events: $10,000 or 3.5 percent of the amount spent on tourism promotions. Maximum grant of $2,000.

Blowing Rock

What: Collects a 6 percent room tax in the town limits of Blowing Rock.

Total room tax: $598,000 (One-third of this goes to the town of Blowing Rock for enhancement projects, leaving $400,000 for tourism promotion.)

Festivals and events: This is in transition. In the past $40,000 was spent on festivals and events. Of that, $20,000 was reserved specifically for chamber of commerce and town events, from the Easter egg hunt to Christmas parade. The remaining $20,000 was reserved for other entities.

But the event’s budget was up for discussion and a likely overhaul at a tourism authority board meeting Tuesday, after this paper went to press. The proposal on the table was to cut events funding to $23,000, about 3 percent. At the same time, tourism director Shawn Miller has a plan that could solve the tug of war over the festival funding. She is proposing the creation of an “events coordination committee.” It would be made up of stakeholders such as the chamber director, performing arts center director, arts council director, theater director and others. The committee would have two roles: making recommendations for who gets event funding and coordinate events in Blowing Rock.

“We don’t have a centralized clearing house so we aren’t scheduling events on the same day,” Miller said. It would also encourage cooperation instead of competition. If there is a wine festival coming up, and the arts council knows it, they could do a wine and grape motif exhibit that weekend and the theater could have a wine tasting intermission during performances, Miller said.

“Instead of having the TDA saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to this or that event, you would have the major stakeholders review those and also see how they can work together as partners,” Miller said.

But as Miller put it the day before the budget talks: “That is the point of contention tomorrow.”

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