I've been hearing from a lot of folks about the issue of how occupancy tax funds, generated by stays in hotels and AirBnBs, are spent in Buncombe County. For some background on the issue, including current occupancy tax projections, check out this article.
I wanted to share my perspective, so folks know where I stand on this. My perspective reflects a belief, first, that tax dollars generated through tourism should serve the needs of our community; second, that the current approach - which provides a disproportionate level of funding for tourism promotion relative to other communities in NC and which narrowly restricts how local funds can be used locally - is not serving our community's needs; and third, that there's a path forward that helps us move into a new chapter as a community that works for our residents - i.e. ensuring safe, affordable housing; living wage jobs; robust public transportation; and expanded early childhood education - and that is home to a vibrant multi-sector economy, including tourism. My thoughts are also informed by the ongoing conversations I've been in with community members including advocates and business owners, people involved with the TDA, members of County Commission, and city leaders and state representatives. I hear a wide range of perspectives in those conversations, and I also hear a lot of common ground.
I support the following reforms to the local bill (a bill passed by the General Assembly about what happens in Buncombe County), which can be introduced in the 2020 legislative season:
1) Change the allocation ratio so that more funding can be used for local purposes to address pressing needs. As a first step, I'm advocating for a 66/33 split, which would bring Buncombe into alignment with other counties on this; this would mean 33% of funds could be used for local purposes and 66% would be dedicated for tourism promotion.
Under the current allocation formula (75% for tourism promotion, 25% for local purposes), I see the value of the local funding in both direct ways - it funds important local projects that have strong community support - and indirect ones - by funding these projects, it off-sets the need for general funding from the county and city, freeing up those resources for other purposes, such as our work around early childhood education, affordable housing, or transit expansion. But the allocation needs to be adjusted to create more parity and to respond to the quite urgent community needs we are experiencing. Ultimately, I'd like us to regularly evaluate the ratio and consider steadily increased parity between the amount allocated for local purposes and for tourism promotion, especially as the amount of funding available typically exceeds projections.
2) Change the purposes for which local funding can be used to ensure it can be used for immediate public needs, including infrastructure, direct services, and maintenance of previously-funded projects. Ultimately, I think that this local funding should be able to be used for pressing local priorities including needs such as expanding affordable housing and expanding public transit.
3) Expand the composition of the local TDA board to include voting community representation and to make the members from County Commission and City Council voting rather than ex-officio, non-voting members.
I've landed on this approach, because I think these changes can be achieved during the 2020 legislative cycle; they would have an immediate, positive impact in our community; and there is a lot of strong and growing support around these reforms. Should this approach fail to result in changes to the bill, the next step I'd consider would be bringing this back to the Board of Commission to discuss the options available to us in terms of considering a reduction or repeal of the tax.
I'm happy to be direct touch about this - shoot me an email if you'd like to connect.