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Wednesday, 29 January 2014 15:03

Elected leaders to push again for room tax hike in Haywood

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Haywood’s elected leaders plan to invite their three General Assembly representatives to a March meeting in hopes of reviving a bill that would raise the tax on overnight lodging stays and using the additional money for capital projects to boost tourism. 

 

“Each local government could pass a resolution in support of the tax. Then we could bring the resolution to the Council of Governments, invite all our representatives, and show them the unified support the bill has,” Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone proposed at a meeting of the Haywood County COG.

The idea for raising the tax was proposed in February 2013 by the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. The board said raising the tax from 4 cents to 6 cents for every dollar spent on overnight lodging could raise up to $425,000 annually. Mostly tourists and part-time residents who rent hotels, cabins, condos and other accommodations for less than six months would pay the tax.

Every elected board in Haywood County supported the proposal except Maggie Valley, which had lost one alderman to a resignation and therefore had no way to break a 2 to 2 deadlock on the proposal. However, the November 2013 election changed the makeup of the Maggie board, which now supports the proposal. Just one alderman on that board — Phillip Wight — still opposes it.

“It’s not just the elected boards who support this,” said Haywood County Commissioner Kevin Ensley. “The EDC, the Recreation Advisory Committee and the TDA are all for it. Democrats and Republicans support it.”

With the Maggie Valley deadlock and some businesspeople in that town also opposing the hike, Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, chose not to support the bill even though he had introduced it into the Senate. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, had introduced the bill into the state House. 

However, Haywood’s leaders said at the Jan. 27 COG meeting that Sen. Davis now supports the proposal and is willing to shepherd it through the Senate. The new roadblock, said the elected officials, is Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville. 

While Rep. Presnell opposes the legislation, Canton Mayor Mike Ray said she and others might have some misconceptions about the bill.

“People have misconceptions. Rep. Presnell had some, and I spoke with her to clarify some of those,” said Ray.

Much of the controversy about the proposed tax hike revolved around how it would be administered. Some of those who oppose it are more upset about the makeup of the committee and where the members of that committee are from. Specifically, some in Maggie Valley think that town should have more influence on how the money would be spent since a majority of the room tax receipts are still raised from businesses in that town.

However, Ray cautioned that those who want the bill to pass should refrain from trying to get too specific about how the money should be spent.

“Let’s not name specific projects until it passes,” Ray told the COG leaders during the meeting at the Clyde municipal building. 

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