Not another bad deal

Community alert! Patrick Conant posted the following about the latest infuriating back room brokering that could leave us with yet another bad deal, this time in regards to the occupancy tax (click here for previous writings about the tax + links to the statutes, etc).

“Asheville friends – if you want to see real change to the Hotel Occupancy Tax, I encourage you to reach out to City Council and our County Commission. Our state legislators have said they want to see agreement from the City, County, and TDA before pushing a change through during the short-session in April.

We need to have a more open process including deliberation by our elected officials and opportunities for public input before we sign off of any changes to the occupancy tax.

However, a recent article in the AC-T makes it seem as though these details are being worked out behind closed doors – and I fear that our elected officials are not fighting for the deal we need in Asheville: https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2020/03/07/asheville-buncombe-officials-and-hoteliers-approach-agreement-on-occupancy-tax-change/4964644002/

Excerpt: “On March 6, Buncombe Board of Commissioners Chairman Brownie Newman, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer along with John Winkenwerder, representing the ABHA [Asheville Buncombe Hotel Association], said they’ve almost reached a deal. The three spoke at a morning meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners held at UNC Asheville.”

Here’s what I wrote to Council today:

Members of Asheville City Council,

I read an article in the Citizen-Times this morning regarding possible changes to the Occupancy Tax. I understand that Mayor Manheimer recently spoke at the CIBO, along with Commissioner Newman and members of Asheville’s new hotel lobbying group, the ABHA. There appears to be an interest in rushing this bill through in the April short-session, although our state legislators are requiring agreement from the City, County, and TDA before agreeing to move this forward.

I’m reaching out to you today to advocate for a more inclusive, transparent process around any possible changes to the Occupancy Tax. City Council needs to be having these discussions in public, with opportunities for community members to provide input on this specific proposal. Please, take the time to hear from Asheville residents before you sign off on any deal that alters the occupancy tax.

I encourage you to explore the true implications of the proposal on the table. What I see is a minor re-allocation of the tax towards the TPDF fund, with the possibility that the entire fund is re-allocated to a bond-funded renovation of the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

Furthermore, the TDA has already indicated that they’ll simply draw additional funds from their reserves to keep advertising spending at or above current levels. Plus, we have hundred of new hotel rooms coming online this year. If you believe (as I do) that our ever-increasing tourism advertising budget does result in a net cost to residents through infrastructure costs, then this proposal is not going to provide any type of relief.

I am not clear on how the membership of the TDA board would change in the current proposal, but I feel that is one of the most important ways we can shift the trajectory of the TDA over the long-term. We need a TDA that is not made up solely of hoteliers and hotel-related businesses. We need a TDA that also gives those impacted by tourism a seat at the table – if we give residents and industry workers a voice, I bet discussions around tourism will sound quite different than what we hear today.

This is probably the only chance we’ll have to change the tax for a generation, and it appears that we’re dangerously close to throwing away this critical opportunity by agreeing to a proposal worked out (once again) in back-room deals dominated by hotel lobbyists. The TMIP was supposed to provide a mechanism for discussions around how the occupancy tax could be utilized in our community, but the way this legislative proposal has unfolded exposes that entire process as a nothing more than a sham.

As members of City Council, you have the power to fight for the type of deal that provides real benefits to our City. You have the ability to push for a transparent process that raises up the voices of Asheville residents and gives us a chance to create a future where tourism-related industries pay their fair share.

I encourage you all to step up during this pivotal moment and fight for a better deal for Asheville!

Thank you,
Patrick Conant”

(THANK YOU PATRICK!)

I’ll add:

Please write our legislators as well: Terry.VanDuyn@ncleg.net, Chuck.Edwards@ncleg.net, Susan.Fisher@ncleg.net, Brian.Turner@ncleg.net, and John.Ager@ncleg.net.

As Patrick also has posted, this is an “attempt to push through the most minor reform possible, thus preventing real, substantive changes to the occupancy tax.”

Our elected officials are giving hotel owners unwarranted power, and are acting as if the machine built to grow tourism without limits is a given and we can only tweak it slightly. With all of the uproar across the county about the occupancy tax, how is an agreement being made and moved to the state level without community input?!?!?!? It’s unacceptable.

As I wrote in my “Beyond the TDA” forum remarks, the occupancy tax was set up decades ago in a very different time in Asheville and Buncombe County’s history. The Tourism “Development” Authority was created to develop tourism. Well, we can all agree that tourism has been developed. That means it is time for a new strategy that is responsive to our current situation and the repercussions from the rampant growth of this industry. Not a strategy that centers the hotels who are benefiting from this outdated approach.

Geoff Kemmish pointed out at that forum that we are in a positive feedback loop with the occupancy tax – excessive tourism advertising which drives up demand for hotels which drives up justification for advertising which feeds back into the loop. “As you know,” he said, “positive feedback loops always end in disaster.”

Every tax dollar the TDA spends on marketing is a tax dollar kept hostage from community needs (while being spent in unaccountable ways that are causing harm).

If the Mayor and Chair of the Commission think that giving up what we want for what the hotels and their friends in Raleigh will give us is the only way forward, I return to the call to repeal the occupancy tax and abolish the TDA.

Firecracker Jazz Band, walking near a brewery which was recently sold to a problematic international corporation, not far from where a yet another boutique hotel is being built by a developer from another city. Photo: Sandlin Gaither.

Dancing to a Bad Deal

With interesting timing, the Firecracker Jazz Band‘s new album which just came out (their release show is this Saturday 3.14 at the Mothlight) features a (very catchy) song by my sweetie Jason Krekel called “Bad Deal.” Let’s not let that song be so damn true again.

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