Rowan commissioners block hotel occupancy tax hike

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
The county tax on hotel rooms will remain at 3 percent.
County commissioners voted Monday night to reject a request from the Rowan County Tourism Authority for support of legislation that would have allowed the tax to be increased to 6 percent.
The county decision sets the stage for the city of Salisbury to consider enacting its own 3 percent occupancy tax.
City officials considered the move last year. Some city officials attended the session Monday night, listening to the nearly one hour of discussion and debate.
At the outset of the meeting, Pam Coffield who owns the Stitchin’ Post at 204 S. Main St., spoke in support of the tax hike. She said the additional money for marketing would help stimulate the local economy, bringing more visitors and more shoppers.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain, who also serves on the Tourism Authority, cast the only vote in support of the legislation to allow the tax hike.
Dan Peters, chairman of the Tourism Authority, and James Meacham, its executive director, made the case for the tax increase. They said the money is needed to increase marketing efforts and make Rowan more competitive with better-funded tourism groups up and down the Interstate 85 corridor.
They stressed the additional funds would allow increased and sustained marketing that would bring more tourists to Rowan and provide a substantial amount of economic benefits to local businesses.
Currently, the Tourism Authority collects $317,000 annually from the occupancy tax. A 6 percent hike would double the income.
Meacham and Peters also told commissioners the Tourism Authority is willing to use $100,000 of the new revenue to offset county money now funding some agencies or projects. Among those mentioned was Rowan Museum.
Responding to a question from commissioners Chairman Carl Ford, Meacham said some counties don’t have a Tourism Authority or tax. In most of those counties, the municipalities have the taxing authority and most have a 6 percent rate.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell, citing e-mails from local hotel owners, pointed out there isn’t unanimous support for a tax hike.
Meacham said the major hotels support an increase, with Hampton Inn, Comfort Suites and Holiday Inn supporting a 4 percent tax. Those three hotels generate 78 percent of all Rowan collections.
Meacham also cited data showing the tax rate isn’t a factor in visitors choosing hotels or where new hotels are built. He also noted that neighboring counties and cities that have a 6 percent tax have gotten millions of dollars of investment in new hotels.
Commissioner Jon Barber pointed out the vote Monday night would not be on the tax but on starting the process to get legislation. If approved by the General Assembly, commissioners would set the tax rate at a future meeting.
He questioned whether the local legislative delegation would support the bill.
Meacham said Rep. Fred Steen and Rep. Lorene Coates said they would support it if approved by the Board of Commissioners. Meacham said it was unclear whether Sen. Andrew Brock would support the bill.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.