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April 18, 2013

County, town agree on tourism venture

TARBORO — After three years of negotiation, the Tarboro Town Council and the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners agreed to promote tourism for Edgecombe County. The governing bodies also discussed consolidating animal shelter operations and economic development during a joint meeting Tuesday in the Edgecombe County Administration Building.

Over the past few years, the commissioners have been in the forefront of promoting tourism in Edgecombe. With Tarboro being the county seat, the commissioners agreed that the venture should be jointly shared with the county and Tarboro. The two boards met twice previously with the council not fully on board with the idea. Since the governing bodies' last joint meeting, the makeup of the council has drastically changed with four new members. On Tuesday, all but one agreed. The council voted 6-1 in support of establishing a tourism development authority and to levy an occupancy tax up to 6 percent. That was the first time the issue was voted on.

Councilman Al Hull voted against the measure, citing that he didn't agree with placing taxes on hotels. Previously Councilman Rick Page sided with Hull. On Tuesday he changed his position.

"In the past I have not been in favor of this," Page said. "I just didn't see it being beneficiary to Edgecombe County and the town. I changed my position a little bit, but I still believe that it needs the assistance of other organizations to assist in advertising, assist in putting brochures out, assist in working with businesses in town to encourage people who do come to town that there is something to do in Tarboro — let them know that you don't have to go to Greenville to stay. You don't have to go Rocky Mount to stay, to Wilson to stay. You can stay here in Tarboro with your family and still find something for them to do."

Culminating from the initial meetings, the commissioners voted to establish a tourism development authority and to levy an occupancy tax up to 6 percent. The board went as far as to ask Rep. Joe Tolson, D-Edgecombe, to sponsor a bill. Tolson agreed to sponsor the bill, but he advised the board to be united before he would pursue it, said Edgecombe County Manager Lorenzo Carmon.  

From the beginning, Carmon has pitched that Edgecombe could benefit from tourism but it starts with the two governing bodies.

"They say there's nothing to do in Tarboro," he said. "You need to go to Greenville or Raleigh or Wilson. You need to go here or you need to go there. In reality, there's a lot of things to do in Taboro. We got to help ourselves help ourselves."

Tarboro Town Manager Alan Thornton, who was hired in May 2011, also was not in on the initial discussions. He believes that the county and Tarboro will benefit from establishing a tourism development authority and an occupancy tax.

"We have not tapped into the $47 million per day industry in North Carolina which is traveling tourism," he said. "That's economic development in my book any way you want to look at it. I think we currently sit 52 in the state for collecting traveling tourism and we don't do anything.

If we are not proud of what we have here and we are not willing to promote it and we are not willing to do things to grow and be competitive, then we stand at a disadvantage because every county that surrounds us are. They are out there right now marketing trying to do everything that they can to draw dollars from our county to their county. I believe in a competitive playing field."

Thornton also took the lead in discussing a verbal proposal to consolidate the town and the county animal shelters. Thornton explained that Tarboro's facility is "old" and in need of upgrades. The proposal would close the Tarboro shelter but keep its employee. He believes the consolidation would improve the efficiencies as well as provide a better confinement for the animals.

Both boards appeared to be in somewhat of an agreement. Chairman Leonard Wiggins and Mayor Donald Morris asked that a written proposal be brought to the governing bodies.

For the economic development discussion, both boards applauded its dealing with Carolina Gateway Partnership but it wanted better results. Carolina Gateway Partnership is a public-private industrial recruitment agency dedicated to the economic development of Nash and Edgecombe.

"It's time to step up and find new, creative ways to attract jobs and businesses," Commissioner Billy Wooten said. "If we continue down the same road we're going now, the same model and philosophy, we're not going to make any headway."

Thornton brought to the board's attention the county's 15 percent unemployment rate, saying that Edgecombe County needs jobs. He said it would be great to recruit a large industry that would supply 1,000 jobs, but they are hard to come by. Carmon agreed saying that if the county can't get a $100 million industry he would settle for one of far less value.

The governing bodies did not set a specific date for another meeting but mentioned that one could be set after the budgets are completed in June. Both sides agreed that the meeting was productive.

"It's critical for Tarboro and Edgecombe County to work together," Thornton said. "I think it is critical for us to maintain this relationship and to have those conversations on mutually related issues. The last time I checked, everybody who lives in Tarboro also live in Edgecombe County. I think it is good that we can sit down and better provide services that are so critical to our citizens that they want and they need in a beneficial and cost effective manner."

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