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Occupancy tax bill’s passing a surprise

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
County officials expressed surprise that the Salisbury occupancy tax bill passed in the waning hours of the General Assembly session.
Carl Ford, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said the last he heard nearly a month ago the bill was dead
County Manager Gary Page also said everything he had heard indicated the bill was dead.
Page and Ford said they heard nothing from the local legislative delegation until Sen. Andrew Brock called Thursday to say the bill had passed.
“It was a big surprise,” Ford said, adding the county never took an official position on the city occupancy tax.
Ford said he and other county officials had gotten various updates over the past six months or so on the bill, including some from City Manager David Treme.
“I’m a little bit surprised, the county was surprised,” Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz said Friday. “We set the goal in 2007, we gave them the opportunity (to increase the county tax). We’ve certainly not been secretive.”
In February, Commissioner Raymond Coltrain, who serves as the liaison to the Tourism Development Authority, pushed for the county to increase its occupancy tax to 6 percent. Coltrain’s motion failed for lack of a second.
At the time, commissioners said they could not see increasing the tax in a depressed economy.
On Friday, Ford also expressed surprise at Rep. Lorene Coates’ apparent change of mind.
Ford cited an e-mail response in May 2008 to Jim Sides, a county commissioner at the time.
Sides cited economic problems and noted at least three commissioners opposed the Salisbury effort to increase the occupancy tax.
Coates responded to Sides that she agreed with his position. “In my opinion at a time when individual and families are cutting back we do not need to be adding additional taxes,” she wrote.
Referring to the Coates statement, Ford said Friday, “I was not aware the economy has improved that much since last year.”
Coates said Saturday she did what the city of Salisbury asked her to do ó get the occupancy tax measure through the General Assembly. And Coates said county commissioners never indicated opposition to the bill.
Coates said top Salisbury officials, including Kluttz, Treme and Joe Morris, planning director, made repeated trips to Raleigh to attend committee and subcommittee sessions and were in frequent contact with her office to keep tabs on the legislation.
Coates said she can’t imagine how anyone could have thought the bill was dead.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.

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