Maggie boasts crowded field for town elections
Finances and the future of the festival grounds were front and center at a Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen candidate forum last week.
About 30 spectators showed up to hear what the candidates for aldermen had to say. Each candidate answered 11 questions posed by voters and vetted by the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event.
Unlike Maggie town board meetings during the last year, the forum was amicable with each of the six present candidates taking turns answering questions and even agreeing with each other at times. Two candidates, Joseph Maniscalco and Charlie Meadows, did not attend.
The election for Maggie Board of Aldermen will end a yearlong standoff between the board’s current four members. Since former Alderman Phil Aldridge left last year, the board has been split on many decisions, including who should fill the fifth alderman seat. But once Nov. 6 rolls around, Maggie Valley will again have a five-person board of aldermen, preventing tie votes.
Given the number of times the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds has made headline news during the last two months, it was not surprising that a couple of the questions dealt specifically with the town’s ownership of and continued investment in the venue.
Saralyn Price, who is running for reelection, said she is grateful for the festival grounds and thinks that the town should still organize events such as the popular Red, White and Boom Fourth of July celebration but not other events.
“I don’t think the town should be in the event business,” she said.
If the town hires a new festival director, then he or she should only market the festival grounds to promoters, not help with the funding or organization of non-town functions, Price said.
Maggie Valley Inn Manager Mike Eveland agreed with Price’s assessment. Following a debacle where the town fronted $16,000 to a promoter to host a concert at the festival grounds, many have called for the town to cease giving any funding, no matter how small, to for-profit event promoters.
“We as a town should never finance or help a promoter,” Eveland said.
Because of the controversy surrounding the concert, it was revealed that the town has a policy of regularly handing out taxpayer money to promoters for advertising. The promoters would agree to pay the town back, but Janet Banks, who is running for the two-year alderman seat, said that policy must change.
“I firmly believe the festival ground current policies and procedures need to be examined,” Banks said. “I don’t think the town needs to be promoting events.”
Town leaders also need to look for ways to make the festival grounds profitable, she said.
Alderman candidate Charlie Meadows, who put on the concert and received a loan of taxpayer money to do so, did not come out for or against the practice. Meadows, who now owes the town $11,000 after the concert lost money, was more concerned about how the policy could affect promoters.
“How do the taxpayers guarantee that a promoter does not lose money?” Meadows said.
The festival grounds itself has been bleeding money every year since the town bought it 10 years ago. Despite this, candidates still saw the festival grounds as a key for tourism.
“I think it is the nerve center of Maggie Valley. I think without it we would be in deep trouble here,” said Steve Hurley, an alderman candidate and owner of Hurley’s Creekside Dining & Rhum Bar.
Events, particularly the motorcycle rallies, throughout the year draw thousands of people to Maggie — people who sleep, eat and shop at area businesses.
“I think the festival grounds is doing pretty well,” said Alderman Mike Matthews, who is running for reelection. “It’s bringing business into the valley.”
Similar to most of the other candidates, Matthews is not in favor of giving advertising money to promoters.
Realtor and candidate Billy Case said the festival grounds could be “an anchor” for the Maggie Valley economy and could also become more of a recreational space for residents to host family gatherings or picnics.
Candidate and retiree Joseph Maniscalco has grander plans though. Maniscalco, citing his experience in casino collections at MGM Grand, said Maggie could bring big time musicians in to play the festival grounds or maybe the closed down Eaglenest Entertainment venue.
“We could bring in heavy stars like in Las Vegas,” he said.
An 800-seat venue, Eaglenest used to attract artists like Percy Sledge and Rhonda Vincent before it shut down because of the slowing economy.
During the last two years, the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen has cut or maintained its tax rate of 39 cents per $100 of property value. Going into this November’s election, voters wanted to know if the tax rate would remain the same next year.
“I think we have a great opportunity to make that goal,” Eveland said about keeping the tax rate stagnant. “The last two years of budgets have been very positive.”
However, none of the candidates can predict how changes at the federal or state level might affect Maggie’s budget.
“I certainly don’t want to raise taxes any more than I have to. I can’t predict the future, I wish I could. We can’t predict what state and federal are going to do,” Price said. “We will do everything we can to do that.”
But higher levels of government aren’t the only thing elected officials have to worry about. Expenses are constantly on the rise, and Banks said changes — such as an increase in Duke Energy’s power rate — could force the town’s hand. She promised to try and keep the tax rate the same.
“I will do my best to keep the taxes as low as they can possibly be,” Banks said.
Realtor Case would not commit to setting the current tax rate in stone. If property values declined for some reason, Case said the tax rate would need to increase to ensure that the amount of tax revenue collected by the town didn’t decline.
Hurley, Maniscalco and Meadows indicated that they would like to see the board of aldermen take a more active role in budget preparations. All three suggested creating a new committee to review budgets and make recommendations, rather than having the town employees draft it and present it to the aldermen each year.
“I think the budget should be line by line and see if we can have a finance committee,” Meadows said. “Just to have some kind of committee to tell the board where there is wasteful spending at or where we might could cut.”
Referencing past experience dealing with company budgets, Mansicalco said he would like to lead such a committee if elected.
“I want to be the chair of the budget-cutting committee because I know I could do a good job and save the taxpayers money,” he said.
Maniscalco added that he believes there is enough room in the budget to cut taxes by 5 percent by 2015 without harming services.
“I differ from Saralyn Price who says the roof is going to fall down,” he said.
During the forum, candidates also addressed the countywide lodging tax.
Despite some vocally opposing a 2 cent increase in the lodging tax earlier this year, the candidates at the forum all said they were in favor of the increase, which would net about $450,000 a year for tourism-related capital projects. The tax is added to the bills of people who stay overnight in an accommodation in Haywood County, so it is not paid for by local residents.
Because of the dissent in Maggie though, Haywood County will have to wait until 2015 to get permission from the N.C. General Assembly to enact a lodging tax increase.
“This is a resource that we turned our back on,” Eveland said.
Although all expressed support for the increase, Banks, Hurley and Matthews all inserted a caveat, saying they would like more specifics about how the new revenue will be spent.
“There needs to be some very clear stipulations about where this money is going to go, who decides where it goes,” Banks said.
Moving Maggie Forward
Earlier this fall, an independent consultant hired by the town premiered a business plan aimed at moving Maggie toward greater prosperity. The valley was hit hard during the recession, as were many towns; however, Maggie has struggled more than some to bounce back.
The plan, named Moving Maggie Forward, pointed out specific improvements that business owners could make to draw in tourists, including sprucing up its curbside aesthetics. It also gave overall suggestions for the business community, such as opening the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce to all business owners rather than simply those who pay to be members.
Many residents and business owners have come out in support of Moving Maggie Forward because they see it as a way to boost tourism in the town and save residents money.
“The more tourism dollars we can have coming in here, we can offset our taxes,” Meadows said.
However, since May, little movement has been made toward enacting any of the recommendations. Town leaders and business owners need to get the plan back on track, Hurley said
“It is the only thing we have going for us,” he said. “We need it desperately.”
Candidates were faced with the question of the board of aldermen’s role in helping with the plan.
Case simply pointed to the neighboring town of Waynesville, which has a business association. The Downtown Waynesville Association spearheads streetscape improvement projects, such as the installation of old-fashioned lampposts, in the downtown area. If Maggie businesses form their own association, “then I think we will be on our way for a good future,” Case said.
Matthews thought elected officials should stay out of it unless the business community approaches the board.
“It is not our decision what goes on. It is for the businesses,” he said. “I think it is best for us to keep our noses out of it.”
While they agreed that businesses should lead the movement, Banks and Price said that the town could help in one area — funding.
“I think it is up to the businesses to decide what is going to happen,” Price said. “I think they can tell the board what they need, and we can try to assist them anyway we can.”
Eveland was the only candidate to express a desire to have the board take a more active rle in by helping craft a three- to five-year implementation plan.
This November, there are three seats up for election in Maggie Valley. Incumbents Saralyn Price and Mike Matthews are running against three competitors for two of the seats. The two winners will serve four-year terms. The remaining seat has been open since last year when former Alderman Phil Aldridge resigned. Three candidates are running to serve the remaining two years of Aldridge’s term.
Janet Banks, 68, is a retired nurse practitioner and nursing school professor. She and her husband moved to Maggie Valley seven years ago from Texas.
Joseph Maniscalco, 76, is a retiree who has lived in Maggie Valley for more than five years with his wife. He has written fiction novels and served in the casino collections division at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, among other things.
Charlie Meadows, 41, owns Charlie’s Wing House, Sweetbriar Motel and Lucky Jake’s bar in Maggie Valley. He is an active voice at Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen meetings.
Billy Case, 59, is a fifth generation Maggie Valley resident and is currently serving his second term on the town planning board. He is a Realtor.
Mike Eveland, 54, spent 17 years in upper level management at Ryan’s Steakhouse. He is currently a manager at the Maggie Valley Inn.
Steve Hurley, 68, owns Hurley’s Creekside Dining & Rhum Bar and has lived in Maggie Valley for 10 years with his wife, son and twin daughters.
Mike Matthews, 33, is a current alderman on the town board. He previously worked at Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park. He has lived in Maggie Valley on and off for 17 years and has two children.
Saralyn Price, 58, is a native of Maggie Valley and current alderwoman. She is the former police chief at Maggie Valley Police Department and prior to that worked for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.