BCTDA plans public input opportunities for occupancy tax

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BACK IN ACTION: The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority held its first in-person meeting in over a year on July 28. The authority plans to continue streaming its proceedings as well as take remote public comment. Photo by Max Hunt

The numbers just keep going up. Compared to May of last year, reported the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority at its June 26 meeting, overnight stays this May increased by 5%, yielding monthly occupancy tax revenues of nearly $1.5 million. And many in the community, acknowledged BCTDA President and CEO Stephanie Brown, want a say in what’s done with that money.

As the BCTDA unanimously passed its nearly $19.36 million operating budget for fiscal year 2019-20, Brown noted that the authority had begun engagement around its Tourism Management and Investment Plan, which will guide the long-term investment of the 25 percent of occupancy taxes earmarked by state statute for community capital projects with the potential to increase overnight visits. 

Although around 40 “community leaders” were invited to talk about the TMIP at a June 12 meeting, she said that many in attendance had expected a public meeting and were disappointed when only those who were invited were allowed to speak.

Brown stated that the BCTDA was not aware of this gap in expectations until after the meeting. She said the authority would release the dates of four upcoming opportunities for public comments and questions on the TMIP soon; while still unsure what those discussions will look like, she anticipated that they would take the form of open workshops. 

“I ask the community to recognize that there is a process, and that this is very important work, and it represents a really monumental shift in the way that we approach planning,” Brown said.

Asheville City Council member Julie Mayfield, who serves ex officio on the BCTDA board, added that the city had received several emails and comments on the matter from members of the public. “There are some people who still don’t feel included,” she confirmed.

The BCTDA is currently in the process of finalizing a community sentiment survey, the findings of which will be presented the week of Thursday, Sept. 12. Brown said the next planning phase will be a deep dive into municipal partnerships. According to a budget amendment approved at the June 26 meeting, the authority has spent $85,278 of a planned $440,000 on the TMIP to date. The plan’s progress can be followed online at ashevillecvb.com/tmip/. 


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11 thoughts on “BCTDA plans public input opportunities for occupancy tax

  1. john spears

    Am I misunderstanding something? On what planet does 25% of $19.6m equal $440k ?

    • luther blissett

      You’re mixing up the money they have to spend with the money they’re spending on how to spend it.

      “the 25 percent of occupancy taxes earmarked by state statute for community capital projects”

      This isn’t what the statute says, so I hope that wasn’t coming directly from Ms Brown. It specifies that the TDA can spend up to 10% of the net proceeds on admin, that 75% of the proceeds can only be spent on promotion and advertising, and the Tourism Product Development Fund gets whatever’s left over.

      The TDA just signed off on a $15m marketing budget. (The entire Black Mountain town budget is $11.5m.) Will Ms Brown accept public input into how that’s being spent?

      All the public input in the world counts for nothing unless the TDA is willing to address the fundamental flaws in the controlling statute and the perverse incentives that proceed from it.

    • Gary Woods

      The 440,000 number is the budgeted amount for the Tourism Management and Investment Plan (TMIP). Basically, the process cost to determine how they will spend 25% of the occupancy taxes.

    • bsummers

      $19.6m is the slice of the occupancy tax that is given to the BCTDA by the State to play with this year. $440k is the amount they have budgeted to help them decide what to spend 25% of that $19.6m on.

      Spoiler alert: none of that twenty million dollars in public tax money will be spent to benefit the people who actually live in Asheville, other than the hotel owners and others who make their living making Asheville unlivable.

  2. NFB

    What other industry has the state collect a tax that is then handed over to said industry for the purposes of it promoting itself?

    Three and a half years ago John McKibbon promised to start advocating allowing a portion of the room tax to go help pay for infrastructure and public services used by tourists in exchange for approval of the BB&T building to be turned into another hotel. What is the status of that promise.

    The TDA continues to hide behind the letter of the law that the money must be spent on marketing and projects designed to appeal to (more) tourists, but the law does not state that it cannot be an advocate withe the state legislature to change that so that it can help pay services those tourists use while they are here that end up being paid for by residents. Not that it is a massive shock that they don’t want anyone to move in on their slush fund, but at some point something more than this PR stunt is going to have to give.

    A few years ago when there was some discussion of increasing the room tax to help pay for infrastructure and public services the TDA was adamant that any room tax increase would make rooms too expensive making tourists go elsewhere (as if Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg have the Biltmore House or downtown Asheville.) But when the onslaught of new hotels started being built the TDA panicked that there would not be enough heads for those beds and quickly got the state to raise the room tax. Their contempt for local residents is so blatant and yet they never seem to be able to grasp why they have so a negative public image.

    • M. Meadows

      Stephanie Pace Brown is a parasite. Just look at her job history. Remember Asheville, the fish rots from the head.

    • luther blissett

      “What other industry has the state collect a tax that is then handed over to said industry for the purposes of it promoting itself?”

      What other public body has its spending determined by percentages instead of actual numbers?

      Something that ought to be clarified: given the pause in the TPDF grant cycle, how much money is going to be put aside by the TDA during 2019-20 for future spending?

  3. Jonathan Wainscott

    Raleigh didn’t force the terms of the tax on us. The architecture of this tax structure was designed by locals and the State granted the request.

    • luther blissett

      That’s both true and irrelevant, given that the structure was initially set up in the early 1980s. What matters is the capacity (and will) to change the statutory structure sufficient to find votes in Raleigh. You can argue that the county’s approval of additional taxes in 2013 and 2015 accelerated the cycle, but you can’t argue that the TDA was envisaged to have a marketing budget of $15 million when it was created. The law of unintended consequences applies.

      • Lulz

        Put it on the ballot box and let the voters decide. My guess is that the election would break records as far as voter participation is concerned.

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