Lake Norman & Mooresville

Tug-of-war over funds for tourism

Nearly a week after state legislators voted to maintain the same funding formula for Visit Lake Norman, some town officials are still upset about the message the legislation sent.

House Bill 508, which passed both chambers last week, will require the three North Mecklenburg towns to give 28 percent of revenue from the hotel/motel tax and 25 percent of revenue from the prepared food tax.

The formula is the same one the towns have used in recent years.

"It's a little hypocritical," said Huntersville Commissioner Charles Jeter. "You have a state government that doesn't like when the federal government tells them what to do, and yet they have no problem telling the local government what to do."

Last week, one version of the bill angered many local officials as it would have required the towns to give 51 percent of revenue from the prepared food tax to Visit Lake Norman.

Although 51 percent is technically less than the combined 53 percent from the hotel/motel and prepared food tax revenue, some officials said it would cost the towns more, particularly Huntersville.

Many officials were also upset the funding would come from residents visiting local restaurants and not from tourists staying in hotels.

Although the revised legislation returned the funding formula to previous levels, Jeter said the mandated funding will make the towns' relationship with Visit Lake Norman "acrimonious."

Still, Jeter acknowledged the relationship was already strained after some officials openly talked about cutting funding for Visit Lake Norman during budget discussions.

Jeter also said a tourism task force created by the three town mayors caused tension, although Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte said it was never the intent of the task force to cut Visit Lake Norman funding.

In reaction, hoteliers and Visit Lake Norman staff approached the state officials about creating legislation that would require the towns to provide funding.

"We created this problem ourselves," said Tarte. "By all this hemming and hawing about cutting funding, VLN got nervous, and I don't blame them."

Tarte said since the funding is the same as it's always been, the only real adverse effects of the legislation are "a lot of bruised egos, hurt feelings and a little less trust."

Still, others said they are committed to continuing to work on an interlocal agreement with Visit Lake Norman, with one of the major goals being that the towns have equal say on who's appointed to the organization's board.

Currently, the towns are allowed to appoint 3 of the 16 board members.

"We did request changes that would result in greater accountability, effectiveness and efficiency for VLN - after all, it is taxpayer money that funds VLN," said Cornelius Commissioner Lynette Rinker.

Tarte dismissed the idea that the recent legislation might slow those efforts.

"There are a lot of bruised feelings on both sides," he said. "But this too shall pass. We all just need to grow up and get over it. We're all friends and neighbors at the end of the day."