Tax proceeds at issue

Local officials hope to determine how proceeds generated from a Transient Occupancy Tax may be spent, and by whom.

Virginia law states that localities can levy a 2 percent Transient Occupancy Tax, but Patrick is among several localities allowed to cap the tax at 5 percent.

The state statute stipulates proceeds in excess of 2-percent are designated and to be “spent solely for tourism and travel, marketing of tourism or initiatives that, as determined after consultation with the local tourism industry organizations,” the law states.

Currently, the Tourism Advisory Council (TAC) manages the largest portion of the proceeds. TAC receives 3-percent, and 2-percent goes into the county’s General Fund, County Administrator Tom Rose said.

The funds earmarked for TAC are used for tourism grants, marketing efforts and other initiatives, according to Sandra Puckett, the county’s tourism director,

At the June 12 meeting, Mayo River District Supervisor Lock Boyce proposed earmarking up to 40 percent of the proceeds for the county’s coffers to help offset salaries, insurance increases and/or allowable expenses.

Supervisors directed Rose to research the topic and provide additional information at the July meeting.

The issue arose after Puckett asked the supervisors to alert the tourism council before overriding the council’s decisions related to grant funding.

During discussions, officials said two individuals had missed deadlines and/or failed to turn in certain receipts, etc., required to receive grant funds. As a result, the TAC did not approve the grants. The supervisors, however, reversed TAC’s decision and awarded the grants.

Boyce said two people experiencing issues with the TAC came to him, and he in turn, brought the issue to the board.

Because the county appoints members to the council and also must appropriate the agency’s funds, Boyce said “this is a county deal, right? What’s the deal with being so tough on them (grantees) meeting deadlines and getting receipts” turned in, he asked.

“Rules are rules,” Puckett replied.

“If I hear that, I’ll be coming to see you, and Mr. Rose, if I step on your toes, I’m sorry. I meant to,” Boyce said heatedly.

“The two people I represented are two of the largest (tourism) draws in the county,” Boyce said, but declined to identify the individuals or businesses.

Boyce said at least one of the individuals in question was dealing with issues of Biblical proportions; “extenuating circumstances” such as those outlined in the Book of Job.

He asked Puckett if she created the guidelines or “where do the guidelines come from?”

Dan River District Supervisor Roger Hayden said he helped create guidelines used by the tourism agency for grant funds.

Applicants “have to follow the rules or they don’t get it,” Hayden said.

Karl Weiss, who represents the Blue Ridge District on the board and also is a member of the council, said TAC members “didn’t think we (supervisors) had all the information to make a decision, and we did not have all the information” to override the decision. Essentially, “they’re asking if we override their decision” in the future “to let them come and explain why they made the decision.”

Weiss said the individual failed to meet the guidelines more than once, and reiterated the TAC was asking only to be notified before any future decisions were reversed.

Boyce said the council should not withhold grant funds because guidelines were not followed. “If you’re gonna give the guy the money, give him the money” with “no hoops to jump through.”  He also suggested the TAC become “more user-friendly.”

He spent several minutes criticizing projects designed to promote the county and increase tourism, including a LOVE sign at the Patrick County Library and a caboose in downtown Stuart.

Board chairman Crystal Harris apologized to Puckett and the TAC.

“We made our decision based on the information given to us. We did not follow through” or check on the validity of the information, she said.

The board asked Puckett to submit a monthly report, or minutes of their meetings, to help keep them apprised of the council’s activities.

Also during the June 12 meeting, supervisors:

*Heard from the representative of a television station in Martinsville-Henry County, who asked supervisors to pave the way for the station to expand into Patrick County. The board took no action, but asked for additional information about a contract with Comcast for a public access station.

*Reappointed Janet Demiray to the Blue Ridge Regional Library Board of Directors for a full term. *Appointed Jim Allen to the Blue Ridge Regional Library Board of Directors for a full term. He will replace Linda Wilson.

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