Marketing Sampson County takes money and the Sampson Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to build that pool of funds. This week tourism officials received the county’s blessing to move forward in their quest.
On the heels of the CVB Board’s unanimous recommendation to double the room occupancy tax from 3 to 6 percent for local lodging facilities, the Sampson Board of Commissioners gave its unanimous support to send a resolution on to the N.C. General Assembly, but not without some concerns raised.
The room occupancy tax is not a levy on county taxpayers or property owners, but a tax paid by visitors of local inns and motels, generating money that is then spent by CVB to market, advertise and promote the county, CVB director Sheila Barefoot pointed out.
She has said in recent weeks that a key goal in growing Sampson’s tourism industry is to double the room occupancy tax, also called ROT.
The ROT generated $57,200 in 2012-13, a number that climbed to $62,567 in 2013-14, an increase of 9.4 percent. It made an even bigger jump in 2014-15 to $73,406, an increase of 17.4 percent over the previous year. Through the first six months of 2015-16, that revenue totaled $47,871.74, a 39 percent increase over the same period the previous fiscal year.
“Revenues from ROT collections have increased in six of the seven years since the formation of the Sampson County CVB,” Barefoot said. “The average ROT collections over the past five fiscal years, from 2010-11 to 2014-15, has been $65,205.”
Based on that five-year average, it is anticipated that an increase in the ROT will generate approximately $65,000 in additional revenues. The board has the authority to spend up to two-thirds of funds on marketing and one-third of the funds on capital projects that have a public benefit.
“This will provide approximately $42,900 for additional marketing efforts and approximately $22,100 that could potentially be used for capital projects that provide benefit to the traveling public,” Barefoot said, noting the importance of more marketing funds. “It would give us the opportunity to get out there and offer more where we have been limited with funds and not able to at this point.”
While Sampson’s room occupancy tax rate stands at 3 percent, the ROT in Wayne and Johnston stands at 5 percent, and Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett and Pender are at 6 percent.
Barefoot contacted nine of the 10 lodging providers locally. With the exception of one — the principal owner of the Budget Inn was unavailable — each lodging provider approved of the tax bump.
“I didn’t have any negative input at all from the nine that were contacted,” the CVB director said. “They were all on board.”
An increase in the ROT must be submitted as a request by the Board of Commissioners and subsequently filed by a member of Sampson’s legislative delegation by May 3, to be approved by the General Assembly.
“Timing is very important in this request,” Barefoot said
Following Barefoot’s presentation, commissioners offered briefs comments before voting to move the process forward.
“I really had to think about this one hard, because I have such an aversion to taxes,” said Commissioner Sue Lee. “But the two things that spoke to me were that the lodging providers were in favor of it and the contiguous counties were comparable to that.”
Barefoot noted that the levy is not on Sampson residents either.
County attorney Joel Starling reiterated that the board’s vote would simply be sending the resolution to the N.C. General Assembly. Any bill enacted by the NCGA would give the local board the authority to levy a 6 percent room occupancy tax. State law currently caps Sampson at 3 percent.
“It would not be automatic,” Starling noted of the Legislature’s bill. “You would then have to come back and actually vote to do (the increase). There are a couple counties that have authority to levy and don’t for whatever reason. There is still another stage for implementing this.”
He noted public notice and a public hearing that must follow the Legislature before the occupancy tax is a done deal.
“Whatever generates revenue for the county is what we need,” Commissioner Harry Parker said.
Commissioner Clark Wooten referred to Starling’s explanation, noting that the board’s vote was just to move the process along and was not a final vote to levy a tax — a measure with which he shared his own apprehensions.
“I don’t want to raise taxes on anybody,” said Wooten. “We’re not going to do it right this minute, we’re just going to ask for the authority. I don’t know if I can raise taxes on anybody. I’ve got plenty of time to toil over that for now, until the General Assembly comes back.
“Mr. Chairman, I can support that whole-heartedly,” Wooten concluded.
The vote came 4-0 in favor of the resolution. Commissioner Albert Kirby was not present.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.