Commission to clear books of tourism ties
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
The Blount County Commission will consider cleaning up the last vestiges of the county’s financial ties with the newly established Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority during its regular meeting tonight.
Commissioners will consider closing out the remaining county general fund budget items related to the former Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau. The new Tourism Development Authority is a standalone entity and has assumed financial responsibility for the Townsend Visitors Center and the $1.3 million in debt related to the purchase of 10 acres beside it.
Director of Finance Randy Vineyard said approving the budget amendments will clean up the county’s books after the transfer. “We’ve already paid the note off, we’ve already transferred the property, and the last thing we needed to do was clean up the accounting. They issued a note themselves to pay us, so we basically transferred who pays the mortgage.”The Tourism Development Authority will continuing receiving 70 percent of revenues from the hotel/motel tax as did its predecessor. The remaining 30 percent will go to the county general fund.
The hotel/motel tax has stood at 5 percent since 2009 when the commission approved a 1 percent increase in the tax to finance the purchase of the 10 acres beside the visitors center.
In May, the commission voted for the county to join with the cities of Alcoa and Maryville to create a joint tourism authority, which was made possible by a private act passed by the Tennessee General Assembly.The 10-member board that oversees the Tourism Authority includes the county mayor or another county designee, one representative each from the cities of Alcoa and Maryville and Blount County Chamber of Commerce, two Alcoa residents, two residents of either Townsend or Walland, and two residents of Maryville.
With the new authority in place, the Blount Partnership has hired a new director of tourism, Tami Vater, who began her job Aug. 6. She replaced Herb Handly, who retired in June 2011 after directing the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau for 12 years.
Jeff Muir, communications director for the Blount Partnership, said Vater is working with CEO Bryan Daniels to evaluate the effectiveness of the agency’s tourism promotion efforts.
“We’re reevaluating where we are in our marketing plans that we’ve been doing and taking a deep hard look at the data we’ve been gathering. ... We’re seeing if we’re heading in the right direction and if not, seeing where do we need to refocus our efforts.”