Don’t foot-drag on occupancy rate hike

Some decisions make no sense, and county commissioners’ sudden foot-dragging on green-lighting a hike in the occupancy tax is one of them. That’s particularly true since those same commissioners are the ones who urged state lawmakers to give the go-ahead in the first place.

The General Assembly, which had to authorize the proposed hike, gave its thumbs up in August, but the measure has now been stalled by the very board which worked for its passage. The reason: heartburn over what they refer to as raising taxes and the issues that might crop up should our occupancy tax be higher than neighboring counties.

That, too, makes no sense given the many times Convention and Visitors Bureau director Sheila Barefoot and board members have stressed that the rate increase would not impact local residents and have pointed out that neighboring counties had similar occupancy rates to the one they hoped would be approved for Sampson. It’s been said many times that Duplin, Harnett and Pender counties all levy a 6 percent tax while Wayne and Johnston have 5 percent occupancy tax rates. It’s also been noted on more than one occasion that there was no opposition to the tax from local lodging providers.

Yet at the commissioners meeting earlier this week, it was as if a cloud of amnesia had enveloped the board members, many who touted the idea yet again, but stopped short of halting the delay.

The sought after occupancy tax hike would not impact local residents or property owners. Instead, the tax would apply to guests who utilize overnight accommodations in local motels, bed and breakfast establishments and through room rented via Airbnb.

And, most importantly, the funds garnered from the tax would be used to market Sampson, drawing more travelers and visitors into our county. In other words, the occupancy tax could help bring money into the county without commissioners having to hold their hand out to taxpayers.

Sampson currently has a 3 cent occupancy tax rate which, in 2014-15, brought in $73,665 to county coffers. In Duplin, which has the rate our CVB board is seeking approval for, $257,162 was collected during that same time period. In Harnett, the number was $437,753 and in Wayne it was $608,514.

No negatives there that we can see.

It’s strange that commissioners think differently, and stranger still that they didn’t do any necessary homework that would quell concerns that we believe are unfounded.

Perhaps strangest of all is that commissioners shared their support for the occupancy tax increase last year and again at the beginning of 2017, wrote letters to our state representatives urging them to follow suit and even adopted a resolution calling for the NC General Assembly’s support earlier this year, the second such resolution. Yet when it come time for them to give it a thumbs-up, they coughed up a delay tactic.

We aren’t sure why the back-burning came Monday, but we are certain of this: come next month commissioners need to get off their duffs, let off the brakes and adopt this measure.

Doing less makes them look wishy-washy at best and does nothing to move this county forward in terms of marketing the great things we have to offer to those we hope will come visit us.