A bill filed in Raleigh that was initially going to allow the county commissioners to increase the occupancy tax rates for Haywood County and create an occupancy tax for Bryson City has been changed to now include only Maggie Valley.
The revised House Bill 412, if passed, would allow the town’s board of aldermen to levy a room occupancy tax of up to 2% on the rental of any “room, lodging, or accommodation furnished by a hotel, motel, inn, tourist camp, or similar place.”
The bill goes on to say that the town “shall, on a quarterly basis, remit the net proceeds of the occupancy tax to the Maggie Valley Tourism Authority.”
“The authority shall use at least two-thirds of the funds remitted to it under this subsection to promote travel and tourism in Maggie Valley and shall use the remainder for tourism-related expenditures,” it reads.
Bill sponsor Mark Pless of Haywood County said Bryson City was taken off the bill because Rep. Mike Clampitt of Swain County said it wouldn’t work there.
Haywood County was taken off, he said, because TDA director Lynn Collins didn’t like the bill. While Collins didn’t want to comment on either edition of the bill, Pless provided emails between himself and Collins.
“Currently, TDA board members do not support the 2% legislation as written,” her email to Pless reads, although it doesn’t elaborate specific concerns.
Pless said he decided to include Maggie Valley on the second edition after speaking with Alderman Phillip Wight, who came to him with the idea.
“This helps us to better control our own destiny,” Wight said.
How to spend
Wight was one of a few aldermen at a board meeting held last month that decried the former version of the bill because it specified that funds generated from the added countywide tax could be used only for sports parks, a new amphitheater or a convention center.
Town Manager Nathan Clark noted those kinds of projects wouldn’t likely be possible in the town due simply to its topography and lack of large, flat areas.
Pless said that in addition to Maggie Valley, he has spoken with the town managers from Waynesville and Canton about their interest in being added to the bill.
While Wight and Clark indicated that Maggie Valley would likely form its own municipal TDA board, Waynesville Town Manager Rob Hites said he believes that the town’s board of aldermen would determine how to allocate funds generated by the potential occupancy tax.
Hites said that while Maggie Valley would likely use its funds on maintaining and expanding outdoor venues and Canton would likely work on capital improvement projects, he guessed Waynesville would use it to maintain its recreation center and park.
“We’re not in the position of creating a tourist-oriented venue because our rec center provides formal recreation for the whole county,” he said. “Seventy-eight percent of all folks that go to our rec center or play in our leagues and enjoy walking trails come from outside the city. What I suggested to Representative Pless was to draw the language such that we could use that money to help pay for the non-Waynesville use of our recreation programs because we don’t charge a differential in rentals or anything like that.”
Pless said he is confident the bill will pass the house. If it subsequently passes a senate vote, the municipal boards will be able to conduct their own votes on how to implement the new tax.
“If they choose to enact it they can,” Pless said. “If they choose not to they don’t have to.”
Through the years, county and tourism leaders have long discussed the need for more tourist attractions in the county — things like a children’s museum, a convention or an outdoor center.
The additional tax, as once envisioned during past years, was to be part of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority and set aside for capital projects.