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Wednesday, 29 May 2013 12:48

Room tax issue won’t change much between now and 2015

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op frAlice Aumen, one of the owners of Cataloochee Ranch and a longtime tourism booster in Haywood County and Western North Carolina, hit the nail on the head: “It’s a vision problem.”

She was referring to the decision by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, not to support the proposed room tax hike for Haywood County because a small, vocal contingent of lodging owners and two town aldermen in Maggie Valley came out against it. Because everyone in Haywood would not support the hike, Davis allowed it to die in committee. That means hundreds of thousands of dollars for tourism-related capital projects will not find its way to Haywood County.

 

Local bills almost never have the support of everyone involved, and if that is the litmus test for passage then nothing would get through. Anyone could go down the list of local bills that pass each year in the General Assembly and find detractors in almost every case, but those local legislators supported the leadership in the counties they represent. Davis supported the merger-annexation of Lake Junaluska with Waynesville, and there were plenty who opposed that measure. So it’s a bit unclear as to why he is imposing this standard on this particular bill.

The detractors of the proposal to hike the room wanted two things: a clearer plan for how the extra revenue would be spent; and they wanted Maggie Valley to have more control over how the money would be spent. 

The first argument has some merit. People focused on potential tournament caliber softball fields — part of the “vision problem” referred to by Aumen. Supporters of the tax, however, said getting a committee of volunteers to spend a whole lot of time developing a spending plan for money that might not come through would be an exercise in futility. I think a more detailed plan could be developed if supporters felt confident that this would make it through the legislature.

The second point of contention may never be cleared up, though. Anyone who follows the news in Western North Carolina knows the changing tourism landscape has been tough on Maggie Valley. While the winter season is stronger than ever as Cataloochee Ski Area has made improvements almost every year, Maggie Valley is still redefining itself and working to weather the recession. That struggle has highlighted the differing opinions among business owners and town leaders about how to address the future. 

But those challenges aside, the rest of Haywood showed overwhelming support for this proposal, and that’s why it should have had Davis’ support. As we all know, tourism is economic development in WNC. Those in Haywood can look west to Swain County and east to Buncombe to see neighbors who have taken advantage of leveraging a portion of their room tax money for capital projects. The whole point here is for these projects to serve as a catalyst for private enterprise, attracting visitors who will spend money in hotels and inns, restaurants, convenience stores, pubs, campgrounds and galleries. This in turn benefits the entire community.

Now, it’s wait until 2015 and try again, and it’s a pretty safe bet that there will still be a very vocal, very small opposition. If Haywood leaders want this room tax hike to pass, Davis will have to change his mind or voters will have to elect a different senator. 

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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