Rep. Ford introduces occupancy tax bill, promises changes final vote

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, March 29, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Last week, state Rep. Carl Ford introduced a bill that could raise the occupancy tax, but he remains undecided about whether he’ll vote for it.

Ford’s bill aims to fulfill a request from the Salisbury-Rowan Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bill could effectively create a 6 percent occupancy tax in all Rowan County towns and cities. The tax outside municipalities would remain 3 percent.

Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO James Meacham said the bill is not identical to the tourism board’s choice. Two weeks ago, the CVB board unanimously approved a change to a 6 percent countywide tax, instead of 6 percent in Salisbury and 3 percent in the rest of Rowan County. The CVB board also asked for a change in the way tax money can be spent.

Meacham said the bill could change as it moves through the state legislature.

CVB board Chairwoman Krista Osterweil, who manages the Hampton Inn in Salisbury, said she prefers that the bill mirror the original request, which would subject all hotels and other lodging facilities to the same taxes.

“Anytime a new hotel would open within the county, there would be a 6 percent tax and there wouldn’t be any disparity,” Osterweil said. “It would be a singular tax structure. It would be easier.”

Currently, a hotel in Salisbury would be subjected to a higher tax rate than one outside the city limits.

Ford guarantees that the bill will change before it becomes law. Ford said he filed the bill just before a deadline for proposals pertaining to local matters.

“We’re going to get what they wanted,” Ford said. “We were under a deadline. We got it filed with what we thought we might need.”

Ford said he received a formal request for the change from the tourism board at 5 p.m. March 14, a day before the deadline for local proposals to be submitted.

“We weren’t sure when we were going to receive it, so we were already getting something drafted and we decided to go ahead and file something then work on it,” he said. “It’s got a long way to go, though. Tax increases are not popular.”

Because the bill could be portrayed as a tax increase, Ford is questioning whether to vote for it.

“I’ll definitely introduce it. It’s what the appointed board asked for permission to do,” he said. “Whether I vote for or against it, I haven’t decided.”

Ford stressed that the bill, as it currently stands, would not raise taxes. It would only give local towns the option to do so. Once changes are made, Ford said his bill would give the CVB board the ability to raise taxes.

The tax change would “probably help Rowan County in the long run,” Ford said, but often people don’t look at tax changes that way.

Known as House Bill 444, Ford’s proposal has two co-sponsors — Rep. Elmer Floyd, a Democrat from Cumberland County, and Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat from Robeson County. The bill has been assigned to one of two state and local government committees.

Currently, most occupancy tax revenue comes from inside Salisbury’s city limits. Other sources of occupancy tax revenue include the campground at Dan Nicholas Park and Carolina Country Campground, near the Davie County line, Meacham said. Other properties subject to the occupancy tax include a motel in northern Kannapolis, Affordable Suites on Julian Road and various short-term rental properties marketed through Airbnb.

Osterweil said it’s likely that more hotels will open in southern Rowan County once construction crews complete the widening of Interstate 85 to four lanes and county commissioners extend water lines to a planned Old Beatty Ford Road interstate exit.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.