Tourism dollars create opportunity for Jackson
This summer, the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority is in the process of accepting applications for its first round of Tourism Capital Project funds. The TCPF gives community stakeholders the chance to apply for money made from room tax dollars in the county to fund projects that better the community for tourists and residents alike.
“This has been a conversation that’s been going on since about 2012,” JCTDA Director Nick Breedlove told the Jackson County Commission in February.
Legislation permitting some tourism bureaus to expend up to one third of their total revenues on tourism-related expenditures comes from North Carolina House Bill 96 , which passed in 2011. According to the legislation, tourism-related expenditures are those designed to increase the use of lodging, meeting, or convention facilities in the county or to attract tourists or business travelers to the county. The term includes tourism-related capital expenditures.
Capital projects include things like convention and conference centers; arenas and stadiums; sports facilities; performing arts venues; museums; parks; greenways; trails; public art; visitors centers and wayfinding signs.
The idea for this type of spending is that by funding capital projects, tourism bureaus increase the demand for accommodations, local spending and visitor satisfaction, thereby bringing more money into a county.
“The use of visitor-paid occupancy taxes on capital projects to benefit our local residents and the community is a great thing. I am strongly in favor of reinvesting dollars back into our towns and communities,” said Breedlove.
JCTDA began developing the application for capital projects in 2020 with research into best practices in other destinations. The application was reviewed by JCTDA’s Product and Experience Development Committee, Visitor Experience Committee, Magellan Strategy Group and the county’s legal and finance teams.
“One of our goals is to fund projects that have a useful lifespan of 10 or more years, or new construction, expansion or renovation that have a total cost of at least $25,000; or a major maintenance or rehabilitation project with a cost of more than $25,000,” said Breedlove.
When Breedlove presented the TCPF to the Jackson County Commission in February , Commissioner Gayle Woody asked whether the county could apply for these funds in order to complete projects. According to Breedlove, the county can apply for funds, with the appropriate county department acting as the applicant.
During the 2021-22 fiscal year, the JCTDA allocated $500,000 for the TCPF. However, because that money went unused during the fiscal year ending June 30 — applications for this cycle of funding are not due until Aug. 1 — that money is being rolled over into FY 2022-23. An additional $250,000 will be allocated in the upcoming fiscal year, for a total of $750,000 available in FY 2022-23 for capital projects through the tourism fund. This money is available for the current project cycle and an anticipated cycle beginning in the new calendar year.
“I looked at our fund balance reserve policy, three to six months of reserves above and beyond the LGC-mandated 8%, our current cash balance and investments, and determined this figure would likely be a good appropriation considering all those factors,” said Breedlove.
Future fiscal year allocations will depend on anticipated occupancy tax collections.
“We have an excess in general fund balance this fiscal year and last fiscal year due to conservative budgeting and primarily an exponential increase in demand for leisure travel during COVID-19,” said Breedlove. “Many mountain towns also experienced this significant lift. We’re hopeful to make an annual allocation that goes toward these larger projects to benefit the community. With the increased taxes collected, we realized we’ve already done a great job at advertising our destination and now it’s time to invest those funds back into the community for projects that benefit the residents and visitors alike.”
Project applications are due to the JCTDA by Aug. 1 and will be considered by its board prior to going before the board of county commissioners. Funding agreements will tentatively be decided on Oct. 20.
This fiscal year, the JCTDA has collected over $2 million, with May and June rental collections still outstanding. According to Breedlove, by the end of the fiscal year the JCTDA could collect over $2.5 million, which would represent $62.5 million in accommodations sales in Jackson County in fiscal year 2021-22.
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Maybe Jackson County should have some restaurants on Sundays which would help promote tourism. It is just ridiculous to try to find an open restaurant that is not fast food after attending church when families get together!
I'd be so happy to see this money allocated to projects that preserve our natural environment so loved by locals and visitors. Those parts most impacted by tourism that need Preservation could be adopted by agencies or entities. I'm thinking clean water, air and well-maintained roadways and trails.