Salisbury OKs city tourism authority
By Noelle Edwards
Salisbury will have its own Tourism Development Authority and occupancy tax, Salisbury City Council decided Tuesday.
Council members voted 4-0 to establish the Tourism Authority. Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy was absent.
A public hearing at the City Council meeting gave people a chance to weigh in before council members voted. Four people spoke in favor of the move, and two spoke against. Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz said she had received one letter in favor and two letters in opposition.
Michelle Patterson, chairwoman of the Rowan County Tourism Development Authority, spoke in favor of the issue. She said she hopes the tourism boards can collaborate.
The Tourism Authority in February asked the Rowan County Board of Commissioners for a 3 percent occupancy tax increase. The commissioners rejected the request. The new Salisbury Tourism Development Authority can set the occupancy tax rate for hotels in the city at up to 3 percent, on top of the 3 percent county occupancy tax
Patterson said in studying nearby cities and counties with higher occupancy tax rates than Rowan County, she found no examples of a higher occupancy tax negatively affecting tourism.
Randy Hemann, executive director of Downtown Salisbury Inc., said he couldn’t imagine a higher tax hurting businesses because tourists would have nowhere in the area to go where they would pay a lower rate.
“I’m personally tight,” he said. “My wife can attest to that. … I have never made a decision of where to stay based on that extra $2.40 tax.”
That $2.40 would be the difference between a 3 percent tax and a 6 percent tax on an $80 hotel room.
The Tourism Authority for the county collects $317,000 a year from its 3 percent tax. The city Tourism Authority will collect the tax it imposes.
Two-thirds of that income must be spent on marketing, according to North Carolina laws. The other third can be spent on capital projects but doesn’t have to be.
The two people who spoke against the new Tourism Development Authority and occupancy tax both focused on that final third.
Dave Redden, general manager of the Salisbury Holiday Inn, said he fears the money will be used for the Empire Hotel and an event center under consideration. That would be taxing his customers to pay for his competition, he said.
Carolyn Wilson, director of sales and catering at the Holiday Inn Conference Center, listed 37 event venues in Salisbury and surrounding areas.
“How many event centers does a city of 27,000 people need?” she said.
Councilman Mark Lewis said a decision about an event center would be up to a nine-member Tourism Development Authority board, which would comprise three representatives from hotels, three representatives from sites and attractions, a Rowan Tourism Development Authority member, a council representative and a member-at-large.
Lewis said the goal of this decision is not to fund an event center in downtown Salisbury.
“I’m not saying that won’t happen,” he said. “But I am saying that’s not a hidden agenda now.”
Paula Bohland, vice president of Downtown Salisbury’s board of directors, Empire Task force chairman Brian Miller and Hemann made a presentation about upcoming marketing research into an event center after the City Council vote on the Tourism Authority and occupancy tax.Miller emphasized that their presentation had nothing to do with the earlier vote.
Other council members emphasized that as well in discussing the tourism board decision.
Ultimately, Kluttz said, “I believe that we need these funds desperately for marketing,” and she said she would rather they be paid by visitors than Salisbury residents.