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Tourism Board to seek occupancy tax hike

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
A proposal to double the county’s hotel occupancy tax could go before county commissioners in September.
The Rowan County Tourism Development Authority Board adopted an aggressive timeline Wednesday to seek legislation increasing the tax.
Some board members suggested the proposal offered by Executive Director James Meacham moves too quickly.
But Chairman Don Bringle called it aggressive and noted the real deadline is January, when the General Assembly starts its new session.
To increase the tax charged on hotel rooms from 3 to 6 percent requires approval of the Board of Commissioners and changes to existing legislation by the General Assembly.
Tourism Board member Tina Hall, also a county commissioner, called the timeline a bit of rush, wondering if county officials will have time to gather information to justify the increase.
Hall also cited a “huge change of direction” regarding how the money would be spent.
In February, a committee of the board recommended seeking changes in the legislation that would allow spending up to one-third of the tax on capital projects, including a proposed Salisbury conference center.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the committee recommended that all taxes collected go for marketing, with no expenditures for capital projects.
Board member and Salisbury City Councilman Mark Lewis, who is in England, weighed in via conference call. Lewis said the conference center is not one of the projects the city is interested in looking at.
Dan Peters, incoming chairman of the board, called the proposed timeline a guidepost. If board members need more time, they can take it.
On a split vote, the board approved the timeline.
Board members Tina Hall, Jeff Hall and Bringle voted against the measure. Supporters were Kelly Alexander, Buddy Gettys, Dave Redden, Jim Cowden and Mark Lewis.
Peters didn’t vote.
In other matters, the board:
– Heard Meacham’s report that hotel occupancy and taxes collected continue to improve. He noted that collections were up 8 percent in April.
He also cited increased trips and revenue from the trolleys operated by the Tourism Authority.
– Unanimously voted to include Rowan County, Salisbury and North Carolina in a new logo and tag line for the Tourism Authority. A marketing group, Aristotle, is currently working on a new marketing campaign and a logo.
– Approved the 2008-2009 budget, which shows income and expenses of $374,000.
Also approved a 4 percent cost-of-living increase for employees.
– After a closed session to evaluate his performance, approved a merit bonus of $4,846 for Meacham, or 8.5 percent of his salary. He is completing his first year as executive director. His annual base salary is $56,480. Under provisions of Meacham’s contract, he was eligible for a bonus of up to 10 percent.
Tina Hall last month criticized Meacham’s efforts to help Salisbury enact its own occupancy tax and start a tourism development authority.
– Heard a report on the upcoming Harley-Davidson owners rally. Around 2,000 people are registered for the event, which is expected to pump as much as $2 million into the local economy.
Jeff Hall, marketing committee chairman, said the price of gas has reduced the number of bikers originally anticipated.
– Meacham presented plaques to Don Bringle, Buddy Gettys and Dave Redden for their service on the board. Their terms expire June 30.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette@salisburypost.com.

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