TDA, town agree to project spending
by Anna Oakes
The Boone Tourism Development Authority Board met Sept. 13 and adopted a list of tourism-supported expenditures for this fiscal year following several months of negotiations with the Boone Town Council.
Since the town increased the occupancy tax rate from 3 percent to 6 percent several years ago, town ordinance mandates 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.
Each year the Boone Town Council recommends a list of proposed tourism-related expenditures for adoption by the Boone TDA Board.
Board members questioned a number of recommended 2013-14 expenditures on a list developed by the town during spring budget negotiations, seeking further clarification on how certain proposed expenditures related to tourism -- including the salary of the downtown police officer, snow removal, Junaluska Park maintenance and repairs to a rock house recently given to the town.
According to the 2009 resolution authorizing the occupancy tax increase and use of revenues, "the term 'tourism-related expenditures' means expenditures that in the judgment of the authority are designed to increase the use of lodging facilities in the town by attracting tourists or business travelers to the town."
"We need to be able to define what that connection to tourism is, as our board is questioned by lodging facilities," Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Wright Tilley told the council at a May 31 meeting. Councilwoman Lynne Mason told the TDA Board in June that the town absorbs a lot of services and expenses during the year that are created by visitors and that safety and access to local businesses and attractions are important for tourism.
TDA Board member Mike Hall in June said he would like to see more tourism-related development or enhancement projects in the future.
Speaking Sept. 13, Boone TDA Board Chairwoman Sheri Moretz said she and other board members knew the town was "in a pickle" with the loss of approximately $2 million in sales tax revenue this year, but "let's try not to make a habit of it." Board members suggested that they meet with the council on TDA priorities earlier in the budget process next year.
See the sidebar to this article for a list of adopted TDA expenditures. The list approved by the TDA Board last week did not include spending for Junaluska Park or the rock house property.
Post office use still unclear
TDA funds in the amount of $398,000 were used in the $1.2 million renovation of the downtown Boone post office, which the town purchased from the U.S. Postal Service in 2009. The town recently moved its Planning & Inspections Department to the building's bottom floor, and postal services continue on the second floor.
Boone Town Council members in the past justified the use of TDA monies because they planned to use the space for a downtown visitor center, and TDA members and others have indicated they want to see the tourism dollars put to good use.
"We were questioned on the post office item at last year's public hearing," Tilley told the council May 31. "We hope we can get those (visitor materials) in there."
Cultural Resources Director Pilar Fotta indicated at the Sept. 9 Cultural Resources Advisory Board meeting that there could be some "hurdles to overcome" in establishing a visitor center in the post office lobby. She said the building's front entranceway is protected under its designation on the National Register of Historic Places and that the placement of visitor information would have to be coordinated through the State Historic Preservation Office.
The use of the downtown post office is listed as a matter for discussion at Tuesday's meeting of the Boone Town Council.
2012-13 occupancy taxes up
Taxes collected from visitors staying in Watauga County lodging facilities were up in fiscal year 2012-13 and flat in July -- despite rainy weather and other challenges, Tourism Development Authority leaders said last week.
Tilley presented the figures at the Boone TDA Board meeting Sept. 13. In fiscal years 2012-13, Boone occupancy tax revenues were up 4.6 percent to $1,061,131, Watauga County numbers were up 10.6 percent to $981,129 and Blowing Rock revenues were up 4.8 percent to $753,829, according to his report.
"I think with everything that's happened March through June, I'm pretty impressed with year-end numbers," said Moretz.
Other impacts to local occupancy tax numbers included the temporary
loss of the Best Western hotel -- which was closed from June 8 to July 22 following a fatal carbon
monoxide poisoning. And other areas in North Carolina experienced cooler temperatures than normal,
which perhaps did not push as many people up to the mountains this year, Tilley
2013-14 Boone TDA Tourism-Related Expenditures
Project/Service TDA Expense Total Expense
Extra police support ASU game days $5,895 $5,895
Community appearance $11,000 $22,000
Cultural resources $80,275 $160,550
Downtown police officer $31,475 $62,950
Downtown services (cleanup, beautification) $105,375 $210,749
Jones House $12,320 $24,640
July 4 celebration $6,400 $12,800
Greenway upkeep $7,000 $14,000
Saturday parking enforcement $7,770 $7,770
Seasonal decorations $6,500 $13,000
Sidewalk construction $5,500 $11,000
Snow removal $74,787 $149,573
Special events $12,500 $12,500
Rivers property trail development $500 $1,000
Total $367,297 $708,427