Jodi Tonsic’s resignation as Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority (TDA) president in early May provides a logical opportunity for the Wilkes County commissioners to approve an occupancy tax for areas outside the municipalities.
The time is right for Wilkesboro and Wilkes County elected officials to take formal steps toward establishing a Wilkes County Tourism Development Authority, funded with occupancy tax revenue from Wilkesboro and areas of Wilkes outside the towns.
The legislature gave the county commissioners authority to collect a 3 percent occupancy tax in 2010. Wilkesboro’s elected officials secured this approval in 2001, and for years the Wilkesboro occupancy tax has helped promote the entire county .
North Wilkesboro would still need legislative approval and that could easily be accomplished with town hoard support, but maybe not in the current legislative session.
The transition period following Tonsic’s resignation is an opportunity for at least Wikesboro and the county to establish unity in promoting Wilkes County as a destination for visitors.
This could include working together to hire a new TDA president and establishing a TDA board with members appointed by the Wilkesboro and county governing bodies.
There are more vacation cabins, airbnbs and other individual short-term rental units out in the county than many people realize. We’re not sure about the large numbers of these places of lodging in Wilkes reported by some websites, but it’s safe to say there are hundreds in unincorporated parts of the county.
It’s not unreasonable to assume tens of thousands of dollars in occupancy tax revenue that could be used to promote visitation in Wilkes is going uncollected.
A reliable count of the short-term rental residential units in areas of Wilkes outside the municipalities would be useful to have for this discussion, especially to help Wilkesboro officials justify giving up the influence they currently have (or would like to have) over use of occupancy tax revenue collected in that town.
We’re told that the TDA president’s job description is being reviewed for possible changes before applications for Tonsic’s replacement are sought.
This could be at least partly related to the Wilkesboro Town Council’s recent efforts to have the TDA spend occupancy tax revenue exclusively on objectives within the town since it’s all collected there.
The Wilkesboro TDA board, with all seven members appointed by the town council, understandably has a more countywide vision since many visitors booking rooms at Wilkesboro motels aren’t here exclusively to remain within Wilkesboro.
Regardless, becoming part of a countywide TDA would require some magnanimity from Wilkesboro council members because the town’s motels would likely still generate the largest portion of revenue.
The objections of short-term residential unit owners apparently have been enough for some Wilkes County commissioners to oppose enactment of an occupancy tax outside the towns.
Inviting owners of cabins, airbnbs and similar establishments to discuss the matter in a public forum was suggested and perhaps that would help, but more likely it would just further delay what has needed to happen for years.
Most Wilkes County residents who travel are accustomed to paying occupancy taxes elsewhere. This opportunity for promoting Wilkes County needs to be more thoroughly utilized.