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Haywood considers wider tourism study

The town of Maggie Valley could be getting more than it bargained for when it called on fellow towns in Haywood County to consider overhauling the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.

The town of Maggie Valley appealed to the Council of Governments — namely the elected leaders of each town in the county plus the county commissioners — to put pressure on the tourism board to give the Maggie Valley Visitors Bureau the share of tourism tax dollars it is historically accustom to and potentially an even greater share in the future. The move followed a significant reduction in funding for Maggie Valley from the tourism authority.

The Council of Governments agreed to form a committee comprised of one elected official each from Canton, Maggie, Clyde, Waynesville and one county commissioner to examine the tourism authority and make recommendations for its overhaul.

The Haywood County commissioners on Monday will consider creating a much larger study committee from a broad sector of the county to examine the tourism industry and effectiveness of the tourism authority. The commissioners hold the final say on an overhaul of the tourism authority.

Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger said the larger study committee is not intended to usurp the Council on Governments committee, but that commissioners need a more comprehensive analysis of the tourism industry before making a decision about the best way to structure the tourism authority.

“You need a good cross section of responsible citizens that are not directly involved in the controversy,” Swanger said.

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The Council on Governments committee had 120 days to make recommendations to the county commissioners. Swanger recommends folding those elected leaders into the larger study committee.

Swanger led the creation of a similar task force four years ago to examine economic development efforts and whether the county was effective in its efforts to stimulate job creation. This effort will be similar, but focused only on tourism.

Dorie Pope, chairwoman of the tourism board, welcomes the more comprehensive study committee.

“Considering the amount of controversy that has gone on for at least 10 years from this same group, if the commissioners can actually address these same issues that keep coming up over and over and over again it is a Godsend,” Pope said. “The goal of our board overall is to benefit the whole county, not just certain sections of it.”

At the Council of Government meeting, Maggie Valley Mayor Roger McElroy was critical of the tourism authority. He said a cut to festival-related funding would jeopardize some of the festivals the tourism industry relies on.

The tourism board cut the festival budget countywide by $15,000 — from $39,000 last fiscal year to $24,500 for the coming fiscal year. The bigger issue, however, is a drastic cut in funding to the Maggie Valley Visitors Bureau, formerly the chamber of commerce.

The tourism authority slashed funding for the Maggie Visitors Bureau by $45,000 for the coming fiscal year — from $65,000 to $20,000. The cut amounted to a third of the Maggie Visitor Bureau’s operation budget. The money was used for staff, phone lines, brochures, magazines ads and Web site development.

Tourism board members who support the change say they can put the money to better use luring visitors to the county as a whole. McElroy said that individual towns have a better handle on how the money should be spent. Instead of pursuing countywide tourism promotions out of a central tourism authority, the tourism tax dollars could be divvied up among Maggie Valley, Canton, Waynesville or Lake Junaluska areas, respectively.

The Council of Government meeting was largely driven by the towns of Maggie and Canton, who have become allies in an attempt to redirect the way tourism tax dollars are used and allocate a greater share of the lodging tax for tourism efforts in their individual communities rather than a central tourism authority. Clyde, a small town that neighbors Canton, sided with Canton. Waynesville’s town board did not show up for the meeting, but instead sent only the mayor and town manager.

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