Ediitor’s Note: County commissioners discuss occupancy tax again. Story on page B5.
The Wilkesboro Town Council on Monday unanimously agreed to raise the town’s occupancy tax on places of lodging from 3% to 6%.
The council also unanimously adopted a resolution that supports the Wilkes County government’s establishment of a 6% occupancy tax.
During the specially-called meeting on Zoom, the council adopted Resolution 2021-03, which “requests on behalf of and with support from the Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority (TDA) that the N.C. General Assembly raise the (town’s) occupancy tax to 6%.”
The Town of Wilkesboro has been the only governmental jurisdiction in Wilkes with an occupancy tax since 2001. Its seven-member TDA board, appointed by the town council, determines how revenue from the town’s 3% occupancy tax is spent.
Wilkesboro’s 3% occupancy tax typically raises over $150,000 per year.
The TDA, under the direction of Thomas Salley, functions as a component unit of town government like the Wilkesboro ABC Board.
On Monday, Salley called the occupancy tax increase “the best way to move forward with this, and if the county adopts its occupancy tax I’ll be more than happy to cooperate with them fully.”
In a Feb. 18 letter to Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland, Salley said the TDA board met on Feb. 16 and voted to request that the council adopt both resolutions in support of the occupancy taxes.
Daniel Isom, TDA chairman, said Monday, “Regardless of what happens outside of what Wilkesboro chooses to do, there’s significant benefits down the road for the TDA to increase the occupancy tax. Wilkesboro should also maintain a heavy presence in determining how those funds are spent.”
Resolution 2021-04 calls for the Wilkes County commissioners to enact a 6% occupancy tax and for the TDA to “join forces with Wilkes County, to allow one Tourism Development Authority to operate in a manner to administrate both entities.”
The resolution also states that the TDA would “keep separate financial records for each tax while combining efforts to promote tourism opportunities and activities in Wilkesboro and Wilkes County.”
At their Feb. 16 meeting, the county commissioners agreed by consensus to decide at their next regular meeting on March 2 whether to schedule a public hearing for receiving public comment on establishing an occupancy tax.
Wilkes is one of 15 counties in the state that doesn’t impose such an occupancy tax.
The Wilkes County commissioners secured passage of state legislation allowing them to collect a tax on gross receipts from lodging provided by motels, rental cabins, Airbnbs and other short-term rentals, but a few months later tabled the matter. They have since discussed the matter several times but have taken no action.
North Wilkesboro Commissioner Andrew Palmer said during the Monday meeting that he has encouraged the county commissioners to approve the occupancy tax.
“I applaud Wilkesboro for leading the charge on occupancy tax,” said Palmer. “Those extra dollars are good for everyone. I’ve talked to the county commissioners and it’s important that the county also does this so we’re not at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring communities.”
After the resolutions were approved, Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said, “I will take the next step with the county manager (John Yates) and see where this takes us.”
Noland said he would inform Rep. Jeffrey Elmore and Sen. Deanna Ballard of the Wilkesboro appeal for the increase in occupancy tax and request they begin the process of creating a local bill that would go before the legislature.
In 2016, Wilkes Planning Director Eddie Barnes estimated that a 6% occupancy tax on areas outside the towns in Wilkes would generate $60,000 to $80,000 annually.
Most county and town governments in North Carolina have either a 3% or a 6% occupancy tax and 6% is by far more common.
Surry and Watauga counties administer a 6% occupancy tax on areas outside of incorporated areas of the counties. The Surry towns of Mount Airy, Elkin, Pilot Mountain and Dobson also each have a 6% occupancy tax.
Caldwell County has a 3% occupancy tax on unincorporated areas of the county.