Polk to begin wayfinding sign installation next year

Published 3:42 pm Monday, October 23, 2017

Occupancy tax increases over $130k in last decade

COLUMBUS – Thanks to the county receiving $133,492 more in occupancy tax over the last decade, the Polk County Tourism Department is beginning a wayfinding sign project for visitors to find destinations throughout the county.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Oct. 16 and following a closed session meeting, unanimously approved a contract with J.M. Teague Engineering & Planning to complete a master plan.

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The contract is preliminarily set at $35,586 for the master plan.  The cost of the signs will be determined after the plan is complete.

Polk County Tourism Director Melinda Massey said wayfinding signs are directional signage to create a more visitor-friendly and more easily navigable environment.

The signs will be placed in the rights of way of the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) and will have to meet DOT criteria for appearance and the types of destination.

With tourism traffic increasing, the county wants to support safe travel, reduce confusion, and increase awareness and enjoyment as visitors explore the county, according to Massey, citing the reasons the county wants to install signage.

Massey said the discussion about wayfinding signs began in 2012 and was presented to the Polk County Appearance Commission, Saluda City Council and other organizations. The Polk County Economic Tourism Development Commission has approved funding to begin the planning, according to Massey.

The signs will be consistent throughout the county, with Massey saying in the Towns of Columbus and Tryon and City of Saluda, the signs will look similar but will have a color unique to the specific town.

Massey said the county has never been able to do the wayfinding sign project because of tight occupancy tax revenues, but the county now has the revenues available.

“It appears we now have a healthy budget to begin a sign project like this,” Massey told commissioners.

The master plan is expected to be complete by January 2018, with phase I focusing on signage at exit ramps and main intersections. Massey said the phase I signs should be in the ground by Aug. 15, 2018.

Polk County’s occupancy tax has grown exponentially since 2005 when the county received $58,919. Occupancy tax is collected through short-term rentals, including hotels and bed and breakfasts.

The county most recently received $201,098 in fiscal year end 2017.

Polk County consistently collected between $62,000 and $76,000 per year from 2006-2014, then in 2015 received $117,868 in occupancy tax. That figure jumped in 2016 to $149,893 and then to over $200,000 in 2017.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said this is showing the county now has something to work with while the tourism department was formerly just treading water. Gasperson said thankfully the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) has made a difference in occupancy tax revenue for the county as this is not taxes from local taxpayers.

Commissoner Shane Bradley said he’s been riding the fence on whether the occupancy tax was good or bad and this is one example of the tax being good.