Tourism Development Authority budget deserved closer look

tda michelleRUTHERFORDTON – The Tourism Development Authority (TDA) board met Monday, June 29, 2015 and unanimously passed its almost $850,000 budget. The projected occupancy tax receipts are projected to be $683,000 while $167,000 is to be appropriated from Fund Balance.

The largest expenditures  are for administration – $340,000 and for public relations and marketing – $308,000.

During the public hearing, Bryan King addressed several items in his call for a change at the TDA. Using the two examples of Chimney Rock State Park and the Tryon International Equestrian Center (located in Polk County, not Rutherford), King pointed out  that these two entities already are funded without a requirement from our local occupancy tax.

Chimney Rock State Park is supported, funded, and promoted by the State Government. A recent proposal by our Governor includes additional state funding for Chimney Rock Park. Tryon International Equestrian Center is supported, funded, and promoted by private enterprise.

King’s research also pointed out the huge increase in salaries and growing number of employees:

  • The proposed budget reflects an increase in salaries from the 2014 budget of $94,133.00 to $163,997
  • The Proposed budget reflects an increase in part-time from the 2014 budget of $19,437 to $36,000

Additional concern was expressed on the occupancy tax used on outsourcing the promotional activities and duties of the TDA. The proposed budget compared to the 2014 budget was increased by $116,937.

  • The McConnnell group went from a level of $91,575 to $166,301.
  • DK Communications has increased from the 2014 budget level of $25,000 to $109,601.

Wayfaring is up to $150,000 from 48,000 and advertisement has increased from $86,429 in 2014 to $308,345.
All while the two biggest draws in to this market is funded either by State Dollars or by private enterprise.

King’s analysis and comments offered concerned suggestions as well.  As the county expects the occupancy tax dollar to Rutherford County to continue to increase as tourism does, there is also an additional burden to the Rutherford County taxpayer. King suggested that taxpayer dollars could be used to support tourism by our local governments due to the demand for police, fire, EMS, and other tourism related expenses.

Instead of increasing TDA salaries, TDA staff, TDA outsourcing, a balance could be struck to include these increased revenues of occupancy tax dollars into a vehicle to help offset the burden to the Rutherford county taxpayer. A portion of the occupancy tax dollar could be set aside into a grant fund for use by our County, our towns, cites, and non-profits to off set the cost of tourism and to promote tourism activities occurring within the borders of Rutherford County.

Examples include –
 Forest City could apply for this grant to help promote and offset the costs of the annual “Hot night / Cool rides”.
 Rutherfordton could apply this grant to help promote and offset the costs of the “Mayfest” event.
 The Town of Lake Lure could apply this grant to help off set the costs of repairing the Beach.
 The Run Against Addiction is a local tourist event that will bring tourists to our County. If this grant fund was available, the cost of promotion, police escorts, and even signage could be offset as well.
 Rails for Trails could apply for a grant to offset the costs of promotion, signage, and maintenance.

Commissioner Bryan King
Commissioner Bryan King

The TDA is at a pivotal point. King stated that the proposed budget seems to be on a track of empire building versus looking towards the future on how the TDA would better partner with the tourism needs of our citizens.

King offered one final thought stating that if it appears that TDA is unable to invest these increased occupancy tax revenue in a wiser manner, than we may need to ask our elected officials to reconsider the actual benefit of the current occupancy tax rate schedule.

The TDA passed the budget without further comment.