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Originally published: 2014-06-12 19:07:05
Last modified: 2014-06-13 11:21:22

Boone TDA wants bigger tourism projects

by Anna Oakes

Members of the Boone Tourism Development Authority board on Wednesday told the Boone Town Council they would like to see the town's occupancy tax revenues applied to more capital projects designed to attract visitors to the area.

The two boards met at the Council Chambers to discuss the council's recommended list of tourism-related expenditures for fiscal year 2014-15 and to discuss tourism spending priorities in general.

Since the town increased the occupancy tax rate from 3 percent to 6 percent several years ago, town ordinance and state law mandate that at least two-thirds of occupancy tax proceeds must be used to promote travel and tourism in the town, and any remaining proceeds must be used for tourism-related expenditures, including capital improvement projects.

"Tourism-related expenditures" are defined in the legislation as "expenditures that, in the judgment of the authority, are designed to increase the use of lodging facilities in the town or to attract tourists or business travelers to the town."

Under the arrangement adopted several years ago, the council each year forwards a list of recommended tourism-related expenditures to the TDA board, which then selects from that list the projects to be funded each fiscal year. In recent years, however, TDA board members have raised questions about some of the council's recommended expenditures and how they relate to tourism, including services such as street cleanup, a police officer's salary, snow removal and other items.

"To me it boils down to is it a matter of providing the funding to the town to maintain existing things that are all good ... as opposed to our mission being more to further develop tourism and visitors and heads in beds and seats in restaurants?" said TDA board member Mike Hall.

Members said they would like to see occupancy tax dollars spent on big projects such as the Howard Street redevelopment project downtown, improvements to Daniel Boone Park or new tourist destinations.

"I'm concerned that as a tourism community, we have been very stagnant as the town of Boone," TDA board member Sheri Moretz said. "Nothing new as far as tourism product has been added."

Council members and staff noted that the Boone town budget has been negatively impacted by the loss of $2 million in annual sales tax revenue due to the county commissioners' decision last year to change local sales tax distribution.

"How do you maintain the things you have in a changing revenue environment?" town attorney Sam Furgiuele said.

Boone Mayor Andy Ball said the approximate $360,000 available for tourism-related expenditures certainly could be leveraged to match grants or other sources of funding for big projects but would not be enough to finance multimillion projects such as the Daniel Boone Park.

But TDA board member Jerry Lamonds asked if a certain amount of the TDA funds could be placed in a reserve each year for larger projects.

"Most of us would like to see a portion set aside every year for a larger project that needs to be done," Lamonds said.

Council members agreed with the suggestion and in that spirit, agreed that the $115,000 it had planned to allocate from the General Fund to a Howard Street project reserve fund could instead come from the TDA funds in 2014-15, swapping that line item with $102,500 it had recommended as a TDA expenditure for downtown cleanup, trash pickup, maintenance and other services.

Council members also agreed to install signage downtown pointing visitors to restroom facilities and Wi-Fi services available at town buildings.

The Boone TDA board will meet later this month to approve a list of tourism-related expenses for 2014-15.

Boone Council's suggested TDA expenses

Following is a list the Boone Town Council sent to the Boone TDA board of recommended tourism-related expenditures for fiscal year 2014-15. The TDA board will meet later this month to approve a final slate of expenditures from this list.

The two bodies agreed Wednesday to spend approximately $100,000 in TDA revenue on the Howard Street project instead of the $102,500 suggested for downtown services.

$5,895    ASU game day police support
$11,000    Community appearance
$120,413 Cultural resources activities
$22,033    Downtown police officer
$102,500 Downtown services (cleanup, trash, snow removal, maintenance)
$24,640    Jones House
$6,400    July 4th Celebration
$7,000    Greenway upkeep
$7,770    Saturday parking enforcement
$6,500    Seasonal decorations
$11,000    Sidewalk construction
$7,125    Snow removal
$35,000    Special events