Recently, the Board of Supervisors joined the Tourism Council and the Economic Development Authority to bolster a very successful component of our local economy, tourism. My goal here is to answer the following question: “Why do you support the purchase of the Taylor House as Greene County’s Visitor Center?”
Let me start with an answer to a frequently asked question: “What tourism does Greene County have?” Apparently, plenty. We have become such an attraction for tourists that they spent almost $5.7 million this past year on lodging alone. This is up from less than $500,000 per year 10 years ago and now approaches $500,000 per month. Read that last sentence again.
Another question that gets asked, “Why should Greene County taxpayers pay for this with our real estate taxes?” Well, they will not. There is a 5-cent levy on each dollar spent on tourist lodging by those visitors who come here, sleep, eat, visit, buy and leave. Of that 5 cents, 3 cents are required by Virginia law to promote tourism. Virginia statute mandates that local governments must consult the local tourism industry on how it advises spending these funds. In Greene County, that is our Tourism Council. The council has long sought a permanent location and voted unanimously to recommend the use of these funds for a new visitor’s center at the Taylor House. We are following the industry’s recommendation.
“But one million dollars sounds expensive.” It is a lot of money, for sure, but in fact it is equivalent to $4,058 per month or $48,704 per year for the annual loan payment. This is less than one-third of the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) funds (the 3-cent portion) available from 2019 (almost $170,000 in total). There is plenty left over for the many other activities that our Tourism Council believes will continue to grow this successful part of our economy, as well as the maintenance, renovation and upkeep of the Taylor House. This center will not spend one penny of Greene County real estate or property or machine and tool taxes. In the meantime, our tourism industry creates tax revenue, income for tourism entrepreneurs, jobs and is a clean industry that caters to people who come and leave, quietly (with no children to build schools for).
Part of my decision was based on the premise that it is almost always better to own than to rent. Currently, $21,600 TOT dollars per year are being spent on a rental property with no guarantee of how long this property will remain available or at the current rental rate. In return, the county gets nothing but rental receipts. For an additional $21,704 per year ($1,809 per month), the county can own this property via a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), paying $4,058 per month at a favorable 3.5% interest rate over 40 years, buffering the county against the inevitable rent increases. It is significant that there is no penalty for early pre-payment of the USDA loan, giving the county the option of paying the loan off sooner rather than later, an attractive option.
The Taylor House property is a valuable asset. It will be owned by Greene County taxpayers with significant equity the day after we close on the property. Purchased for $1,040,000, but professionally appraised at $1,425,000, its value will only increase over time as it is in the center of our busy commercial corridor. When and if it is ever sold there will be a significant capital gain and the assets will return to the TOT account for future uses to support our tourism industry.
In my humble opinion, the idea for The Taylor House should be much more than a “Visitors Center.” I believe the Tourism Council envisions a Greene County Center that will showcase all that Greene has to offer, including its history. I envision it being available to the community as well as tourists and it is easy to see a pocket park/picnic area, a place for agricultural events, the 4H Club, the Scouts, the Chamber of Commerce, the Art Guild and other non-profits, wine, cider and beer tastings and events, musical and cultural events, and the many offerings available in beautiful Greene County. Its location is near the intersection of U.S. Routes 29 and 33, in an authentic 1930s brick farmhouse that represents a bygone era and a piece of Greene County history, ideal for the “Greene County brand” that the Tourism Council wants to promote. I encourage a partnership with the Greene County Historical Society—a fine way to pair Ruckersville with historic Stanardsville.
I listened carefully and respectfully to each and every citizen comment that was presented to me by email, phone call, conversation, text or comment in public hearings. I appreciated the debate and welcomed and learned from the many perspectives. I campaigned on and was elected, and then re-elected, on the important issues of improving education for our children, advancing the longdelayed plans for a sustainable water supply and supporting Greene’s economic development, which includes tourism. I’ve not been afraid to make hard decisions for Greene County’s future. While I always base my decisions on what makes sense for Greene County in the long term, in this case, those who contacted me directly or made comments in public hearings, supported the Taylor House purchase by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. I found that once the issues were clearly understood, including how our tourism industry is thriving and how TOT funds work, and once folks comprehended that the venture is not using real estate or property taxes paid by Greene County citizens, it was easier for my neighbors to understand that this project just might be a wise investment for our community.
I look forward to continuing to work with and for Greene County citizens on issues that are important to all of us.
Chair, Greene County Board of Supervisors