One north Mecklenburg town has rushed to reaffirm its commitment to Visit Lake Norman, the area’s publicly funded tourism bureau, to keep Raleigh out of Lake Norman’s financed business.
Cornelius voted at its Monday, April 4, town board meeting to keep its current funding levels – 28 percent of the town’s hotel-motel tax and 25 percent of its prepared-food tax – flowing to Visit Lake Norman as the interlocal agreement between the towns is set to expire later this year.
N.C. Rep. Beverly Earle, a Democrat from Charlotte, recently submitted House Bill 508 that would require Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson to keep the funding for the tourism agency at those levels, effectively taking the discussion from town daises. House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Cornelius Republican, recently told local leaders to either keep the funding steady or the state would do it for them.
Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte told his board at the Monday meeting about Tillis’ ultimatum.
“He said the legislation as presented, unless the communities can resolve it, it has a very high probability of passing,” Tarte said. “… If we can’t take care of it, they will.”
Commissioner Jim Bensman said Tillis wants the legislature to adjourn by “early June,” leaving the towns about 60 days to take action and avoid legislative intervention.
Lake Norman hotel owner Vinay Patel, who sits on the Visit Lake Norman board, asked Earle to file the bill. Tourism leaders fear that with the interlocal agreement ready to expire, some towns may want to renegotiate their commitments.
But Town Manager Anthony Roberts said the other towns apparently have not yet had formal discussions on the interlocal agreement. Roberts has talked to his counterparts – Huntersville Town Manager Greg Ferguson and Davidson Town Manager Leamon Brice. Roberts said Huntersville appears to be ready to renew the interlocal, and Davidson is willing to commit to some annual share of its tourism taxes “but maybe not 28 percent.” Davidson officials have not returned calls for comment, and it is unclear how they are approaching discussions, as leaders haven’t held public discussions on the issue.
Davidson, however, does face more serious budget questions, Roberts noted. Though Roberts didn’t say it, Davidson officials may once again have to use tax revenues to shore up MI-Connection, the broadband company the town owns with Mooresville.
Cornelius commissioners asked Tarte; Mayor Pro Tem Lynette Rinker, who represents the town on the Visit Lake Norman board; and Roberts to contact officials in the other to towns to stress the importance of moving quickly to resolve the issue locally.
In Huntersville, it appears leaders have the votes needed to reaffirm the current funding levels to the tourism agency. Only Commissioner Ron Julian has openly opposed the current agreement with Visit Lake Norman.
Julian told the Herald Weekly last week he wants more oversight of the agency, including stripping voting rights from board members who are not elected town officials or town employees.
“I have no problems reaffirming those numbers if they’re willing to” make those concessions, he said Tuesday, April 5. But he also wants the state to stay out of the decision-making process. “This should remain at the board level.”
Huntersville Commissioner Charles Jeter said he believes comments like Julian’s are driving lawmakers to jump into the fray.
“I don’t blame someone from Visit Lake Norman going to a state representative if you have a commissioner stepping out there and threatening your funding,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be held to the whim of that commissioner, who’s just trying to score some political points.”
Visit Lake Norman is funded through hotel-motel and prepared-food taxes collected from local hotels and restaurants. The agency receives about $500,000 in total from taxes generated from the three towns.
State law requires that money go to promoting tourism, and it can’t be used to lower property taxes or for other recurring expenses not related to tourism.
Visit Lake Norman has scored several big wins in recent years, drawing a number of professional fishing tournaments and major amateur soccer competitions. As recently as February, many applauded the agency after it reported its events generated $12 million in tourism spending last year and should produce $11-million by mid 2011.