Howard Knob cleanup

Volunteers clear the view of the Boone area at Howard Knob State Park in June 2018.

BOONE — An increase in net occupancy tax receipts and the appropriation of over $250,000 from the fund balance to start work on local infrastructure projects accounted for a 22 percent increase in a draft version of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority’s 2019-20 budget.

The proposed $2,177,382 in expenditures would be more than $394,000 up from the planned $1,783,355 in the 2018-19 budget year.

According to the draft budget presented by Watauga TDA Executive Director Wright Tilley, he is anticipating $1,575,000 in net occupancy tax receipts for 2019-20, which is $100,000 more than what was anticipated for in 2018-19. Tilley said that the actual net occupancy tax receipts for 2018-19 will end up higher than what was planned.

The spending of $251,416 of fund balance comes at the direction of the board and its chairman, Matt Vincent, who has previously expressed his desire to start using the TDA’s $1.2 million fund balance.

Tilley’s 2019-20 draft budget would increase “infrastructure grants” spending from $111,670 to $438,000, which is where the funding for the first stages of installing wayfinding signage and the Howard Knob Master Plan would come from.

The development of the wayfinding signage program has taken over a year, with the N.C. Department of Transportation working with the TDA on sign language and prospective locations for the signs. A final plan or start date for the project has not been determined.

The Howard Knob Master Plan would redevelop the Howard Knob Park to make it more of a destination for visitors. Tilley said the current plan is for a “very scaled-back phase one” which includes revamping picnic tables and the overlook.

In February, Howard Knob resident George Bartholomew made a presentation to the TDA board about the neighbors’ concerns on the project, including increased traffic on Howard Knob Road. Tilley said on May 14 that Eric Woolridge of Boone design firm Destination by Design, who created the master plan, would hopefully present revisions to the Howard Knob plan at the board’s June 11 meeting.

The expenditures in the draft budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for TDA employees, which follows Watauga County’s lead.

A total of $10,000 in funding for the Boone Area Sports Commission will remain the same, as does the annual $250,000 allocation to the Middle Fork Greenway.

Tilley informed the council that the TDA offices are likely to move for the second time in two years, this time from the Watauga County Annex Building. Tilley said that the county officials told him the court system and Watauga County Board of Elections will need the space and currently, the TDA doesn’t have an alternative location. There’s no timetable yet for the move, Tilley said.

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