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NEW DESIGNATION? — Haywood County has held its first Elk Fest, but could the next event be accompanied by a new title designating the county as the elk capital of the state?

If a local bill sponsored by Reps. Mark Pless, R-Haywood, and Mike Clampitt, R-Swain, passes, Haywood County could be declared the official elk capital of North Carolina.

The designation will join Haywood’s status as being the home of the state’s official international folk festival and the official state dog — the Plott hound.

Pless said the elk that were brought to the Cataloochee section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have started to migrate out of the area. The designation proposed in the local bill would solidify the fact the elk were in Haywood first, he said.

“It would allow for a different form of advertising and give us another theme we can use to say Haywood has something nobody else does,” Pless said.

As a local bill, the measure doesn’t need to be signed by the governor, and can generally become law as long as all who represent a specific area agree on the issue.

Pless and Clampitt have also teamed up as primary sponsors on a bill to increase the occupancy tax rate in Haywood County and allow an occupancy tax in Bryson City.

In Haywood’s case, the county commissioners would have the authority to levy an additional 2% tax on overnight room rentals, with the funds going toward three specific purposes — sports parks, a new amphitheater or a convention center.

Pless said he tried for two years to get a list of projects the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority was interested in, but came up with the list on his own when nothing was provided.

“I just pulled things out of the guidelines that said what the money can be used for,” Pless said. “I chose things that would take the burden off local citizens and let tourists pay for them.”

There is no guarantee that the occupancy taxes will be raised, he pointed out. The legislation simply allows the commissioners the option if there is a project where the money could be targeted.

At present there are several sports complexes in the county that could be eligible for funds, but the list was broadened to encompass projects down the road.

Pless spoke of a county convention center near Raleigh where businesses and groups could put on training programs, and said the idea for an amphitheater came from people in Asheville who are putting on outdoor events in Haywood.

This measure is also a local bill, one that is customarily passed by the General Assembly as long as a local delegation is in agreement. Rep. Michele Presnell, who Pless replaced, had repeatedly torpedoed the idea in the past.

“This sets nothing in stone,” Pless said of the proposal. “A lot of people had reached out to me, and I was trying to figure out a way to get an open discussion on how to go from here. I was asked by the county to do it. Whether they pull the trigger is entirely up to them.”

A third measure Pless and Clampitt are spearheading is an effort to set aside $50 million to build a mental health facility in Western North Carolina. Pless referenced a facility in the central part of the state that takes individuals from addicts to being self sufficient in the community through a two-year program.

“I would love to see that get going in our region,” he said. “There are a couple of different components we don’t have answers for yet.”

That includes whether the facility will be state-operated or run by a private enterprise.

“We opened it up to get the money appropriated,” he said. “Then we can figure out where it goes from there.”

The bill was also silent on where in the western region the facility would be built. Pless said that would depend on where the best building site could be found.

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