Swain tourism leaders want to kill tax hike request
Tourism leaders in Swain County want county commissioners to withdraw state legislation requesting a 1 percent increase in the room tax to allow time for study.
The Tourism Development Board voted for the slowdown last week after some lodging owners vigorously protested the hike, which could lead to a 33-percent tax increase by raising the lodging tax paid by tourists from 3 percent to 4 percent.
The county wanted to use the extra $60,000 to $80,000 annually to pay for a new home for the chamber of commerce, which also serves as the county’s visitor center. County leaders have rented a former bank building on Main Street across the intersection from the chamber’s current home. Buying the building would cost $535,000.
TDA members said that until they saw the actual legislation, they were unaware the current five-member board would be dissolved and a new, county-appointed seven-member board put in its place. County commissioners also would name the TDA chairman instead of the board selecting its own.
Currently, commissioners apoint three of the tourism board members and the chamber appoints the other two. The new legislation is in line with 1997 guidelines that require the tourism board to be appointed by a public body, County Manager Kevin King said. If Swain wants the tax, increase, it must meet those guidelines.
“For 20 years the TDA has worked with the chamber,” said Chamber President Brad Walker. “Everything has worked fine. Why mess up something that works?”
The TDA and the chamber work in concert in Swain County, with the TDA paying the majority of the chamber director’s salary and chamber membership dues paying an assistant.
“We’re not trying to wipe out the whole board,” King said in response to the complaints. “That was never our intent.”
King pointed out that the county already appoints three of the board’s members, and in that way controls the TDA membership already. That failed to pacify some lodging owners.
“I am really scared absolutely to death when I know that control of the TDA money could leave the TDA and move across to the county,” said Dennis White, whose family operates 20 rental cabins in the county.
Others also questioned the use of TDA funding for a bricks-and-mortar project, saying they were not certain this was a proper use of room-tax funds. They indicated they think the money should go toward promotion.
“If you decide sewage lines help tourism, you could do that?” Walker queried King. “You can call anything tourist related. That’s one of the biggest problems with this.”
The county manager said using the money to buy the former bank building would meet the law’s requirements, because the building would be used for tourism purposes to support tourism in the county.
At the TDA’s request, King said he would place the board’s request to kill the legislation to allow time for further study on the county commission’s agenda.