The Sampson County Board of Commissioners voted to double Sampson’s room occupancy tax rate from 3 to 6 percent in quick order at its Monday meeting, although the move was made through a 3-2 split vote and no accompanying discussion.
The rate increase, which will take effect Nov. 1, is anticipated to assist in marketing and promotion efforts for Sampson County. A goal of the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) for years, the bureau’s director Sheila Barefoot and others touted the benefits the tax bump would bring and campaigned for it in the past year, urging commissioners to reach out to local legislators in support of the heightened tax — which they did, twice.
The room occupancy tax bump, Barefoot noted, will ensure Sampson is on the same level as the 5-6 percent levy in surrounding counties. The tax for Wayne and Johnston stands at 5 percent, while Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett and Pender all levy a 6 percent tax.
The tax is not levied on property owners, but applied to guests who utilize overnight accommodations in local motels, bed and breakfast establishment and through rooms rented via Airbnb.
The matter was tabled by commissioners last month before being broached again Monday, and approved in a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Albert Kirby and Harry Parker dissenting.
“I know they could use the money to help promote Sampson County,” Kirby stated of the occupancy tax proposal last month. “I’m looking at it from the general ordinary taxpayers’ point of view. Increasing taxes is something people don’t like to hear.”
Commissioners previously adopted resolutions in support of an increase in the occupancy tax rate, sending those to Senator Brent Jackson and local N.C. Reps. Larry Bell and William Brisson, who lobbied for the increase. A resolution was adopted by the board requesting the N.C. General Assembly enact legislation for the raised tax in March 2016. A second resolution adopted earlier this year called for the same support.
The room occupancy tax must be authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly, which it ultimately was for Sampson in early August.
Occupancy tax collections for 2014-15 in Sampson totaled $73,665, a far cry from the $257,162 collected in Duplin, $437,753 amassed in Harnett and $608,514 in Wayne that same year. By comparison, Johnston County saw just over $1 million in occupancy tax revenue while Cumberland was close to $5.6 million. However, Sampson saw a sizable increase in occupancy tax collections to $93,990 in 2015-16 and then another slight uptick from there, to $97,556 in 2016-17 (July to June).
According to annual data provided via a study prepared for Visit North Carolina by the U.S. Travel Association, visitors to Sampson County spent $48 million in 2015, ranking 59th of the state’s 100 counties. While significantly below spending levels in surrounding counties, that figure was actually $9 million higher than neighboring Duplin, and $10 million higher than Bladen.
Spending in Sampson rose again to $50.6 million in 2016, according to Visit North Carolina. Gov. Roy Cooper announced earlier this year that visitors to North Carolina set a record for spending in 2016 — spending nearly $23 billion, up by 4.4 percent from 2015’s total.
Even with Monday’s vote to double the room occupancy tax, it will likely be an uphill battle for Sampson, as alluded to in a strategic plan for the CVB released this summer.
”Even with the proposed doubling of the occupancy tax to 6 percent, the amount of money available will still not lend itself to large amounts of traditional advertising performed by many destination marketing organizations,” the plan stated. “To stand out in a crowded market, the CVB must consider out‐of‐the‐box investments of its resources and valued partnerships with other organizations to enhance the appeal of the county as a destination.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.