RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. — The County Commissioners tabled a request by the Tourism Development Authority’s (TDA) executive director Don Cason and Authority chair Richard Lundy to increase the occupancy tax from its current 5% to its maximum rate of 6%. Given that the TDA already approaches a $1 million budget, the commissioners asked many questions of the TDA representatives before casting their votes.
Bryan King, Alan Toney, and Greg Lovelace voted against tabling the proposal. Eddie Holland and Michael Benfield voted in favor of the occupancy tax increase proceeding.
Earlier Don Cason, executive director of the Tourism Development Authority (TDA), had presented his annual report on the TDA to the Board of Commissioners. Although the TDA is required to make quarterly reports, this was the first update in a year given to the commissioners. Cason promised to send future board packets to the commissioners. However, as the commissioners had reviewed the vague comments made in the packet, Chairman of the county commissioners Bryan King asked for more specificity in the reports.
For example, in the board packets Cason states in his director’s report he states “Property visitation to Rumbling Bald.” No explanation is given for the purpose of the visit (TDA Chair Lundy worked for Rumbling Bald), date or results of this and other activities listed on his activity summary.
More importantly when Chair King asked for the deliverables required of the McConnell Group for their $144,000 contract, Cason could not define what the group specifically was hired to do. Marketing and advertising items are listed many times in the next year’s budget without explanation of those multiple payments to be made. RC Catalyst asked the county for the payments made to the McConnell Group and received the following:
Additionally King asked if the TDA had gone out for contracts for marketing services. Having ignored sound business practices Cason replied, “This is a service contract. We’re not required to go out for bids.” He went on to say the TDA had been “using the McConnell Group for years without going out for bids.”
Commissioners Toney, Lovelace and King also asked the TDA Board Chair what exactly the additional monies would be used for. Though few details have been shared on the Cason’s proposed county tourism plan, both Lundy and Cason stated “they would stash this money away so that they could implement the Strategic Tourism Plan when it was completed. When asked for the completion date, Cason’s earlier date of “autumn” became “by the end of the year.” The commissioners were given a preliminary findings report on the Tourism Advisory Committee’s Strategic Plan, but the press was not provided handouts.
Cason stated that the increase amounted to approximately $200,000. His budget already projects a 10% increase in occupancy tax collections for the coming year. The commissioners asked repeatedly how this would serve the residents of Rutherford County. Cason only allocated $50,000 to support local tourism and instead is spending marketing money to promote the World Equestrian Games activities in hopes they benefit our county. Commissioner King asked them in light of a million dollars was $50k the best they could do.
Commissioner Benfield asked if they had considered putting a welcome center at the intersection of Hwy 74. Cason stated they had not.
No mention of Chair Lundy’s recent acceptance of a job with the Tryon International Equestrian Center was made. The TDA board has two TIEC employees as members: Board Chair Lundy and Dave Long (appointed by Eddie Holland) of the Cleghorn/TIEC Gun Club. Many local organizations have expressed dismay at the lack of support for local marketing and activities.
The County Commissioners currently have the authority to mandate how much of the occupancy tax is used to fund the TDA. The Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority was empowered by the provisions of Chapter 577, Senate Bill 585 – Session Law 2011-115, House Bill 414 to collect occupancy tax not to exceed 6% in occupancy tax.