By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved to levy a 6 percent occupancy tax to fund the new Edgecombe County Tourism Development Authority. The tax will be added to the room charge.
In an effort to lure more travelers to Edgecombe County, the county board and Tarboro Town Council have jointly discussed the occupancy tax and its possible effects on the county. The discussions included the benefits of the authority and hiring a full-time director.
Chairman Leonard Wiggins made it specifically clear that the occupancy tax will not fund salaries, but will be used to promote the county.
In 2011, tourism revenues in Edgecombe County were $51.84 million, up 5.68 percent from 2010, according to statistics compiled by the Research Department of the US Travel Association for the N.C. Department of Commerce's Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development. Edgecombe ranked 54th statewide in tourism revenues.
Currently, Edgecombe is the only county in the region — including Halifax, Martin, Nash, Pitt and Wilson — that does not collect an occupancy tax. Wilson County collects the lowest amount, at 3 percent, while Nash and Halifax each collect 5 percent. Martin and Pitt each collect 6 percent.
An extensive, 18-month study funded by a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation and concluded earlier last year presented the case for a tourism development authority in Edgecombe County. That study came on the heels of a study conducted by North Carolina State that revealed enormous potential for Edgecombe County to grow and benefit from its tourist-related sites and activities.
In other business, the board voted unanimously to eliminate four positions — maintenance department custodian, E-911 addressing technician, E-911 addressing coordinator and tax assessor office GIS mapping technician. The positions were vacant due to promotions, retirements and employee turnover, said County Manager Lorenzo Carmon.
Carmon told the board the cuts were necessary to help the county reduce its budget.
"The way things are now, the only way that we can reach budget is to eliminate positions," Carmon said. "Our fund balance is down to 5 percent. We have to start cutting now instead of trying to do it in June or July."
Carmon told the board that he is 99 percent sure that more position cuts are on the horizon. He said in some areas, customer services may be affected.
Wiggins said services may have to be cut or taxes have to be raised. The board appeared to be unanimously in agreement on cutting the services when necessary.
Carmon told the board if the need arise to replace some of the positions, he would entertain the matter.
The board also voted unanimously to turn down the Edgecombe County Fire Association request to disallow annual audits by the fire departments. Allen Dennie, president of the association, went before the board to plea the case. Dennie said the county's cutting $6,380 for each department has crippled their budgets. He suggested that if the county would not require an annual audit, that would save the 10 county fire departments money. He asked that the county assist the fire departments with the audits.
Felton said it was important for an organization to be responsible for its on audit.
"It is too important," he said. "It's the same as if we (county commissioners) gave up our audit."