Friday, July 18, 2008


As with anything political, this is bound to get a little convoluted over the next few months.

Durham won approval yesterday from the General Assembly to hold a voter referendum on a 1% levy on prepared food. DCVB did some heavy lifting on this over a 17 year period so there has been oodles of discussion and consensus. So why did we take so long after Raleigh/Wake County, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, Dare, Fayetteville/Cumberland and even the little town of Hillsborough assessed this levy?

One, Durham took a good deal more time to discuss and evaluate the “uses.” We didn’t just go after the tax because others have it. We first became aware of the power of this tax during a failed attempt in Wake County to lure the Durham Bulls to relocate in Raleigh.

Why does the state advocacy group for restaurants and hotels adamantly oppose Durham’s and yet helped facilitate Raleigh and Charlotte’s which are not nearly as well used to the benefit of these businesses? Hard to say but there was a political “sea change” and the group has been stuck in a “no” position across the board for many years.

We kept them apprised as Durham’s hospitality sector actually helped shape support for and the uses for the 1% levy here. I serve on Statewide tourism panels and they were all kept apprised during the evolution of Durham’s proposal. They are probably admiring of how thoughtful it is but political forces there are stuck on “no” and Durham had to move on to a more progressive, win/win approach.

Instead of finding a tax and dreaming up uses, Durham, and particularly DCVB, has been long concerned about Durham’s sense of place. Our cultural landscape is eroding because the donation model no longer works and it isn’t fair to place all of the burden just on property taxpayers. Our community’s curb appeal has eroded as budget cuts found it easy to lop off cleanup efforts.
We have a booming visitor sector, particularly in culinary arts , an award winning Durham Careers In Hospitality program in the public schools and a great full degree program at NCCU. But we need culinary labs at places like NCCU and Durham Tech and a lot of workforce training to remain viable as a visitor destination.

We need a way to fund cultural, recreational and civic facilities and programs that doesn’t rely solely on property taxes. The 1% prepared food levy will be spread over all tax payers who consume prepared food and 40% will be generated by visitors and non-resident commuters. This is much fairer to Durham taxpayers.

And finally, we needed to broaden the burden of self-funding visitor promotion to include day trippers rather than continuing to rely only on a third of the room occupancy tax which places the burden on just 60 businesses and 20% of our visitors to fuel tourism growth for 3,000 businesses and organizations.

Durham has a remarkable story to tell and DCVB needs to have the resources competitors do in order to get the community on a list for consideration and overcome a hurdle most other destinations don’t have, overcoming an underlying current of negativity in nearby communities.

So linked are the uses in a more concise way but I thought it was important for you to get a little bit of the background.

More to come I’m sure.

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