Archived News

Economic development efforts added to allowed uses for tribal levy

The Cherokee Council House hosts Tribal Council’s  monthly meetings. File photo The Cherokee Council House hosts Tribal Council’s monthly meetings. File photo

In a divided decision the Cherokee Tribal Council approved an ordinance amendment that will allow funding for the tribe’s cannabis business to be part of regular budget planning discussions going forward. 


The ordinance change, submitted by Legislative Executive Finance Director David Forester for the body’s Sept. 7 meeting, adds a single sentence to existing law spelling out ten uses for which proceeds from tribal levy — akin to a sales tax — can be allocated. The amended ordinance states that “A portion of Tribal Levy revenues as determined in a needs-based budget approach shall be allocated to economic development.”

The economic development endeavor Tribal Council had in mind when adopting the ordinance change was its cannabis business, Qualla Enterprises LLC.

“Part of tribal funds had been used — $31 million — for Qualla Enterprises in the past,” Forester told Tribal Council. “That’s coming from tribal levy. This would allow for more of a structured, scheduled approach to look at that in a needs-based budget approach.”

Qualla Enterprises is not currently allocated funding through the regular budget process. Due to federal restrictions, it can’t be funded using the gaming dollars that cover most tribal expenses. The $31 million it has been given so far comes from unused tribal levy funds that then rolled into the tribe’s general fund.

Related Items

Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, who has been a vocal advocate for Qualla Enterprises, was the first to speak.

“It’s not just gaming that’s going down,” she said. “Hotels are down, campgrounds are down, and I think any time we have a chance to take a dime off a tourist, we ought to take that chance.”

Moving to pass the ordinance, she also commented that she’d like to see Tribal Council revisit a previously introduced ordinance change that sought to increase the room tax on the Qualla Boundary.

However, other representatives weren’t sure the ordinance was ready to pass. Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe expressed concern about the amount of money the tribe has put toward various business endeavors without yet having those investments repaid.

“If we’re going to act like a bank, then I think this tribe needs a guarantee that they’re going to get that money back,” he said.

He moved to withdraw the resolution so a “better approach” could be agreed upon before passage.

“I’m in favor of withdrawing it in order to create a repayment process,” agreed Wolfetown Rep. Mike Parker.

Wolfetown Rep. Andrew Oocumma, who has a background in economic development work, said his constituents are in favor of more local economic development efforts, and that the general language of the proposed ordinance meant Council could avoid allocating money to unwise investments. “Economic development” could mean “pretty much anything,” he said, giving Tribal Council the opportunity to decide where the money would be most effective.

“If we don’t pass this, then we’re just kind of sitting back a little bit till we can figure out how we’re going to garnish some funds to do economic development here in Cherokee and Snowbird and Cherokee County,” he said. “All these areas have opportunity, but without funds going to economic development — which is exactly what it sounds like, bringing the revenue and the funds right into the tribe here to do things that we have on our wish list that we haven’t been able to do — we’ve got to have something to go into it.”

The measure ultimately passed with only Painttown Reps. Dike Sneed and Michael Stamper, Parker and Wolfe opposed, giving it a weighted vote of 69 in favor and 31 opposed.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.