The Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority (TDA) received less occupancy taxes and spent less overall in fiscal 2017-18 than the year prior, according to figures provided Wednesday by Bob Urness, Wilkesboro finance director and assistant town manager.
Total TDA expenditures for 2017-18 were $171,790, which includes $85,059.87 for wages and benefits for Jodi Tonsic, who resigned from the full-time job of TDA president in early May. The TDA’s one part-time staffer was paid $1,462.73.
Total expenditures for 2016-17 were $179,907. Although the TDA’s overall spending decreased in 2017-18, it spent almost $5,000 more that year on tourism initiatives than in 2016-17.
The TDA received $160,679 in occupancy taxes in 2017-18 and earned another $243 in interest. The TDA used $11,110 from its fund balance that year, leaving $198,718.
In 2016-17, the TDA reported occupancy tax revenue of $167,135 and used $29,140 of its fund balance to have a balanced budget.
The TDA’s revenue is from a 3 percent occupancy tax collected from places of lodging within Wilkesboro by the town. Wilkesboro is the only government unit in Wilkes County with an occupancy tax, except for the small part of Elkin in Wilkes.
The TDA spent $85,267 on tourism initiatives in 2017-18, including:
• $30,000 to the Town of Wilkesboro for downtown revitalization centered around the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons (35.2% of total TDA tourism spending);
• $8,000 to Edge Entertainment for Carolina Jam at the Community Commons;
• $7,500 to FaithFest 2017 at Wilkes Community College;
• $7,500 for FaithFest 2018 at WCC;
• $5,000 to Heart of Folk LLC for Carolina in the Fall 2017 in downtown Wilkesboro;
• $3,000 to MerleFest at WCC;
• $2,500 to the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor for its annual partnership;
• $850 to the Northwest N.C. Mountain Bike Alliance for its SORBA mountain biking event;
• $500 to the Ford Family Reunion; and
• $500 to the Waugh-Watkins Family Reunion.
Both reunions resulted in Wilkesboro hotel room occupancies that qualified for the stipends, Urness added.
In April 2018, the Wilkesboro Town Council approved a resolution telling the TDA board to spend occupancy tax revenue exclusively on promoting tourism in Wilkesboro. At a meeting of the town council and TDA board in August 2018, council members voiced their desire for spending more occupancy tax revenue on downtown capital improvements centering around the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons.
Prior salaries, benefits
Last year, Urness said Tonsic “totaled roughly 2,239 hours” of work in fiscal 2016-17 and was paid $84,725 in salary and benefits. The prior year, he said Tonsic worked “roughly 1,780 hours” and received salary and benefits totaling $67,429.
He said a person hired through Kelly’s Temp Service spent roughly 600 hours working on the TDA website and performing other clerical duties and was paid $6,760 in 2016-17. A private contractor was paid $320 for about 22 hours spent working on the new website.
The TDA spent $8,148.51 on administration in 2017-18, $7,330 in 2016-17 and $6,841 in 2015-16.
2016-17 revenue, spending
In fiscal 2016-17, Wilkesboro collected $167,135 in occupancy taxes, received $10,378 in sponsorships for Cycle NC, had $345 in interest earnings and used $29,140 from the TDA fund balance.
In fiscal 2016-17, the TDA board allocated $80,772 on tourism initiatives, including:
• $50,000 to the Wilkes Heritage Museum for work on the old courtroom;
• $7,500 to Heart of Folk LLC for Carolina in the Fall 2016;
• $3,250 to the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce for an ad for Wilkes County in the Blue Ridge Parkway Directory;
• $3,000 for MerleFest;
• $2,000 to the Overmountain Victory Trail Association for plans for a proposed section of the trail between North Wilkesboro and Elkin; and
• $2,500 to the Cycle NC Organizing Committee and additional $12,522 for other Cycle NC expenses.
2015-16 revenue, spending
In fiscal 2015-16, Wilkesboro collected $144,905 in occupancy taxes and $640 in interest income. That year, the TDA allocated $15,150 on tourism related initiatives, including:
• $7,150 to the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, which included $4,000 for a High Country Host Marketing Initiative and $3,150 for the Blue Ridge Parkway Directory & Travel Planner;
• $3,000 to MerleFest;
• $2,500 for Boogie Fever Nationals, a four-day competition in June 2016; and
• $2,500 for a Travel South Media Tour to bring freelance writers to Wilkes in an effort to generate publicity in travel articles.
The TDA board eliminated its grant program in 2015-16 to focus on projects that more directly brings people to Wilkesboro, but reintroduced a revised grant program in 2017-18.
The TDA allocated $8,295 for a website overhaul in 2015-16 and $9,090 for the website in 2016-17.
Wilkesboro collected $128,460 in occupancy taxes in fiscal 2014-15 and that year the TDA board distributed $2,500 to the Yadkin River Greenway Council, $7,000 to the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce for advertising and another $30,371 in 10 marketing grants for events and initiatives.
The Wilkesboro TDA, created by the legislature in 2001, has a seven-member board that is chaired by Wilkes Chamber of Commerce President Linda Cheek and appointed by the town council. The TDA functions as a component unit of the town government, similar to the Wilkesboro ABC Board. Its board meets quarterly to oversee how revenue from the town’s 3% occupancy tax is spent.
Tonsic resigned to take a newly-created post as associate director of marketing at the Reynolda museum and gardens in Winston-Salem, effective June 3. Cheek said Thursday the TDA board is currently working on a job description and salary package to advertise about the opening.