Marini made a presentation for about 10 minutes. He made the point that many theaters and attractions receive support from local government. He urged the commissioners to look past what he described as misinformation and ignore the fact that “the well has been so meticulously poisoned.”
Kaye Caldwell, speaking for the county accommodations industry, said innkeepers oppose the tax because it is risky. They don’t want the cooperative promotion of lodging that the Playhouse proposes. “We don’t want to have to duplicate our efforts and work with both the TDA and the Flat Rock Playhouse,” she said. The industry is strongly opposed to the tax. It believes the TDA should lead the tourism promotions and not the Playhouse.
“As a non-profit we have a mission, and that is to provide access to arts to as many people as possible,” Playhouse director Vincent Marini said. The Playhouse brings in more tourists than many other attractions (especially those in Asheville). Flat Rock Playhouse sells more tickets than other regional theaters and gets less local support than other theaters.
We believe that the Playhouse is a priority in the business community. In 2013, the Playhouse is seeking 7.5 perent of its funding from government. “This tax does not have any direct impact on any citizen of this county unless they own or operate a lodging business. This would actually incentivise
Public comment is over with 16 against and 2 in favor.
Doug Llewelyn, the “People’s Court” star and a television producer, said, “If it weren’t for the Playhouse I would not be living here. This seemed like a very good idea for you to help them. … This is no longer a summer stock theater. He wants to bring the best entertainment to Henderson County.”
The current choreographer grew up in the YouTheatre. “It’s an extraordinary organization. … As for Steve Carlisle’s belly-aching, Let me tell you, he tried to get Mr. Marini’s job, and he lost it. Take that into consideration.”
Libertarian Party leader says, “This tax is particularly egregious.”
Bill McKibbin, the FRP chairman, said the Playhouse had found common ground among various parties. “The interesting part is how do you get tourism to occur,” he said. “We do get $60,000 a year from the state, and we’ve been supported by travel and tourism.”
Michael Winter, innkeeper in Mills River: “You won’t hear from the tourists. We hear from them.” The 11.5 cent tax on rooms (sales tax plus occupancy tax) will hurt businesses, he said. “We do recommend the Playhouse to our guests” but they know of none who come to the area for that reason alone.
Running total (I think) is 13 oppose and 1 in favor. “For years we have been from our guests about the occupancy tax and why it’s so high,” said another innkeeper. “Every time a tax increase occurs, that comes out of my rates. We love Flat Rock Playhouse. I’m not OK with them doing our bookings.”
“As you listen to this presentation, and they compare, ask yourself why it is that the Biltmore House doesn’t do the bookings for Asheville. They presented a rather interesting picture. I’d like to hear more about it. It just seems late in the game…. Please don’t balance the Flat Rock Playhouse budget on my back.”
Glen Englram, chairman of the Blue Ridge Tea Party Patriots, urges the board to oppose the tax. He’s the third Tea Party leader to address the board. “By all objective indications the economy is still on its back,” he said. “If you gentleman vote for this tax, you will show that you believe that this government, at least in this instance, is above the people.”
Running total: 10 opposed, 0 in favor of the Playhouse tax.
Jack Root, owner of Highland Lake Inn and Season’s restaurant, says his inn lost money in 2010 and had to cut back. The Playhouse did the opposite, he said, expanding to the downtown space and spending more money on shows. “We believe that it should come from existing taxes,”not from an increase. It seems like we get engaged in these processes far too often without.”
Owner of the Mountain Inn and Suites has more than $10 million invested in lodging ion the county. This year we donated approximately 100 rooms to the Playhouse, the Mountain Inn and Suites manager said.
“I have experienced over the last year people asking about the tax rate,” another innkeeper said. “The idea for raising my tax to pay for a non-profit organization is counterproductive. … I would appreciate very much if the Board of Commissioners would pay attention to the small businesses.”
Barbara Lackey, owner of the Beehive Cottages in Edneyville, said, “Filling out the form is a pain in the neck.” She likes spending money on Main Street, the visitors center, Jackson Park, Little League. “But I don’t like raising money to give to one, privately owned business,” she said. “It just blew my mind when you said let’s give them 1 percent more of the tax money. That’s just not right. Are we taking turns? When will be my turn?” The tourism board has representatives from Hendersonville, Fletcher and Flat Rock. “When are you going to put Edneyville there? Do we just not count?”
Five against and none in favor so far.
“Most of our customers find us on the Internet,” a rental cabin owner said. “Much of our competition comes from Buncombe County. If we go to 6 percent, it’s a $55 disadvantage each week. To us the loss is $900. I’m sure if we were discussing a 6 percent entertainment tax on tickets the Playhouse would complain that it’s going to hurt their business.”
Steve Carlisle, the vocal Playhouse antagonist, takes the audience back to 1952, and not until Robin’s death that they decided to move to downtown, “and now they’re getting ready to do the same thing down in South Carolina, which is to be a non-profit working with a profit-making business.”
“It’s not the way that it was intended back in 1952. .. We’re taking taxpayer money and we’re paying for a not-for-profit to be on there.”
Dennis Justice recommends that if county commissioners want to help the arts, they ought to go model for art classes at UNC-Asheville. You get what you vote for, he said, and the county commissioners have supported other things that waste taxpayers’ money.
“When the people reaize they can vote themselves money from the public treasury that signals the end,” said Dr. Phil Stanley.
Chairman Tommy Thompson gavels the meeting open at 1:01 p.m. Nineteen have signed up to speak. Chairman grants them 3 minutes apiece.
“This is not the time to hear from the Playhouse, the accommodations and other folks,” he says. Those types have their time. Agenda is public speakers, the Playhouse, accommodations industry and town mayors. Ron Kaufman, Henderson County Tea Party chairman, urges the board to resist “picking winners and losers” in the business community. “As for the possible benefits for giving money to the Playhouse, I’m not aware there are any metrics in place to measure the benefit of the tax. … This is strongly supported by Commissioner Edney, and if this version of Edneycare is approved … what tax is next? … If the Flat Rock Playhouse wants to grow, let them provide a product people are willing to pay for …”
Early bird gets … a better seat. At 12:16 there are plenty of seats here so come on down. No circus tent.
Commissioner Bill O’Connor was the first to arrive, followed by Larry Young. A few extra deputies covering the lobby downstairs but otherwise the usual gang.
I asked Larry Rogers, the PEP lobbyist, when was the last fuss as big as this. The soccer fields at Highland Lake, he pointed out. Just last year. Which just goes to show, we like to get in an uproar.
The Lightning will blog the meeting so come back.