By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
A bill authorizing Edgecombe County to levy a hotel occupancy tax of up to 6 percent became law this week. Gov. Pat McCrory ratified House Bill 529 on Tuesday, and the bill will allow Edgecombe County and the Town of Tarboro to move forward with their tourism efforts.
“It’s something that the town and the county wanted and I was just glad to be able to get it through (the General Assembly),” said Rep. Joe Tolson, of HB 529. “They can move forward now with developing their Tourism Authority.”
Hiring a tourism director is months down the road for the county. Creating a Tourism Development Authority (TDA) consisting of nine members will be the next step after the board of commissioners votes to levy the occupancy tax, said Eric Evans, assistant county manager.
“It will give us an additional revenue stream to be able to market the assets of the county,” Evans said. “It will give us some funds to help with the hiring of a tourism director.”
The tax will be added to the bill for a stay at a hotel/ motel/ bed and breakfast. Edgecombe will join the surrounding counties in levying the occupancy tax. Halifax and Nash levy a 5 percent tax, Martin and Wilson levy a 3 percent tax, and Pitt levies a 6 percent tax.
“This certainly puts Edgecombe County on the playing field with other counties,” Tolson said.
North Carolina State University performed a study in 2008 projecting that a 3 percent occupancy tax would generate an annual $46,708.32 in revenue, based on 160 rooms in Edgecombe County, at an average daily rate of $62 per room. The county currently has an estimated 166 rooms, 65 at the Comfort Inn, 62 at the Best Western, 35 at the Budget Inn, and four at the Main Street Inn, all in Tarboro.
The revenue projection was based on a 43 percent occupancy rate, the average rate at the time of the study.
“We believe it is possibly higher now, but we want to be conservative in our budget projections,” Evans said. If the commissioners choose to levy a 6 percent occupancy tax, the projected annual revenue for that is $93,416.64.
Raj Patel, owner of Comfort Inn, hopes that the board of commissioners does not levy a 6 percent occupancy tax.
“I wish that they would stick to the lowest occupancy tax that we could get,” Patel said. “Our leverage is lower rates. If we have higher rates, if may affect our occupancy.”
The occupancy tax must be used to promote tourism, and Evans foresees the county using the funds for staffing and marketing. The tax dollars may also be used to build facilities to attract tourists, but Evans does not foresee the county using the dollars for that purpose in the near future.
The TDA will consist of the following nine members: a county commissioner, a town council member, three owners/ operators of motels, hotels or other taxable accommodations in Edgecombe County, two people involved in the tourist business, one appointed by the board of commissioners and one appointed by the town council, and two people interested in the tourism business, one appointed by the commissioners and one appointed by the town council.