Board to broach room tax, planning again

By: By Chris Berendt -

Two matters tabled earlier this month — a possible planning department implementation and an increase in the room occupancy tax rate in Sampson — will get the Board of Commissioners’ attention once again on Monday.

Both matters were tabled at the board’s monthly meeting in early September.

Following direction given by board chairman Clark Wooten to investigate the feasibility of moving away from a joint planning operation with the City of Clinton and toward a county department, County manager Ed Causey delivered a proposal that would include a two-person county planning office, combined with the Inspections Department. All told, the department would cost $180,246 annually after one-time costs of $63,600, Causey recently stated. The current cost shouldered by the county in the joint planning service is between $175,000-$180,000.

The county manager also said it would take “upwards of two years” to gain institutional knowledge for a smooth-running operation.

At the Sept. 11 meeting, Commissioners Albert Kirby and Harry Parker expressed their concern with making a change, especially when government would be “expanding” by adding two full-time employees to the county workforce and creating a learning curve where institutional knowledge already exists. Wooten called the potential move “an opportunity to stand on our own and go forward.”

The city and county have partnered for planning services since 2004. Prior to that, the county utilized the Mid-Carolina Council of Government and Al Mitchell.

Planning Board chairwoman Ann Naylor noted that the county has invested a great deal — approximately $2 million over the years — to grow its planning acumen.

“We’ve paid them to learn, to become certified and to know what they know,” Naylor said. “We’re getting the benefit of that knowledge. To set that aside for no real purpose and bring in two planners who have zero knowledge base of Sampson County is unwise. We’ve got years and years of knowledge. There’s no reason to toss that away.”

Wooten said the matter was not broached “willy-nilly.” He agreed there was a wealth of knowledge within the Clinton-Sampson department, but evaluating other options was something the board has regularly done with departments.

“I think there are people who bring a fresh perspective,” Wooten stated. “To think nobody else can do that job is a little-bit shortsighted.”

Kirby said he felt some discourse with planning officials would behoove the county, something Naylor implored before a decision was made. At the Sept. 11 meeting, Kirby made a motion to table the matter so that a discussion could be had as to whether “the path we’re taking is a prudent one.” That motion failed 3-2. Another motion to table the matter was made, with no meeting to be held with planning officials. That vote was unanimous.

Subsequent to the meeting, however, Wooten and Lee did schedule a meeting to hear Naylor’s concerns.

Occupancy tax

The doubling of Sampson’s room occupancy tax rate from 3 to 6 percent, anticipated to assist in marketing and promotion efforts for Sampson County, will again be broached for discussion at Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.

A goal of the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) for years, an increase in the room occupancy tax must be authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly, which it was for Sampson in early August. Commissioners tabled the matter earlier this month, electing to defer action on the levy so it could receive more information on the occupancy tax rates in surrounding counties.

Sheila Barefoot, director of the Sampson County CVB, has previously said the room occupancy tax for Wayne and Johnston stands at 5 percent, while Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett and Pender all levy a 6 percent tax.

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 tax applied to guests who utilize overnight accommodations in local motels, bed and breakfast establishment and through rooms rented via Airbnb.

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).

By Chris Berendt

Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.