Lake Norman & Mooresville

Towns reach VLN agreement

After months of back and forth, the three North Mecklenburg towns agreed on an interlocal agreement with Visit Lake Norman that officials say will increase accountability and transparency in the use of tax dollars.

Under the new agreement, Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson can appoint more members to the Visit Lake Norman board, giving them more say in how the public funds are used to attract tourists to the Lake Norman area.

Last week, Cornelius became the final town to unanimously pass the agreement.

Visit Lake Norman is a nonprofit organization that aims to draw overnight tourists to area hotels. It is funded entirely by the hotel-motel and prepared-food tax, which is gathered from the three towns and distributed by Mecklenburg County.

Officials said they wanted more control because the organization is publicly funded.

"This is a group of private businesses that can form a Visit Lake Norman Association at any time, and no government is ever going to meddle with how those private dues are spent," said Cornelius Commissioner David Gilroy. "But it's different when they come to the government asking for a mandatory tax. There's something very sacred about taxpayer dollars."

The three towns will appoint nine members to the 18-member Visit Lake Norman board. Three of the members will be town officials.

Visit Lake Norman can appoint nine members as well.

Before the change, the three towns appointed one representative each. Visit Lake Norman appointed 13.

Thus, the towns increased the Visit Lake Norman board from 16 to 18.

The towns removed a clause that gives the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce final say on any decisions that Visit Lake Norman makes.

"To have a privately funded nonprofit have control of a taxpayer-funded organization was not proper," said Cornelius Commissioner Jim Bensman

Visit Lake Norman's relationship with the three towns has been under a microscope for months, starting with questions surrounding its funding.

The towns give 28 percent of revenue from the hotel/motel tax and 25 percent of revenue from the prepared food tax to Visit Lake Norman.

During the last fiscal year, Visit Lake Norman received $448,145. Cornelius contributed $132,929, Davidson contributed $47,920 and Huntersville contributed $267,296 to make up the total, according to Visit Lake Norman.

But when some town officials suggested that their town might cut funding in the 2012 budget, advocates for Visit Lake Norman approached state officials.

In June, House Bill 508 passed both chambers, codifying the funding formula in law.

Most recently, town officials have argued for more representation on Visit Lake Norman's board to increase accountability over taxpayer dollars.

Despite the haggling between the nonprofit organization and the three towns over the last several months, town officials said they do not expect any lasting damage to their relationship.

"I think there were some people that ended up with some bruising. But the great thing about a bruise is that you don't notice it is sore unless you touch it. And give it enough time, it will heal on its own," said Huntersville Commissioner Danae Caulfield. "I believe we all want what's best for our towns, and we will move on."

The new interlocal agreement went into effect July 1.