The tens of thousands of people at MerleFest this weekend, including many spending their nights in Wilkes County, was a reminder of revenue being missed by not expanding the occupancy tax beyond Wilkesboro to include the entire county.
Another reminder was shared at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board meeting. Thomas Salley, Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority director, said then that $18,929 in occupancy taxes collected in July in Wilkesboro was the town’s second largest amount for a single month.
That July total was just shy of the record monthly total of $18,931 collected in April 2019, which included occupancy taxes collected during that year’s MerleFest. Considering the strong turnout for the delayed MerleFest this past Thursday through Sunday, it’s reasonable to expect a new record total when all of this month’s occupancy taxes are collected.
Passage of state legislation increasing Wilkesboro’s occupancy tax rate to 6% per night, up from the original 3%, is expected but hasn’t occurred yet. The Wilkesboro Town Council recently requested this, partly due to discussion indicating the Wilkes County commissioners might approve establishment of a 6% occupancy tax for areas of Wilkes outside the towns. This didn’t happen.
According to AirDNA LLC, a Denver, Colo.-based company that provides short-term lodging rental analytics, short-term rental properties brought in over $8.6 million in revenue to Wilkes County from June 2020 to May 2021.
With $8.6 million in revenue, a 6% occupancy tax in effect for the entire county would have brought in $516,000 in tax revenue to promote Wilkes County as a tourist destination. As it stands now, this responsibility (and cost) is largely left to the Wilkesboro TDA alone. (Six% is the highest occupancy tax rate allowed under state law.)
People who regularly travel are accustomed to paying an occupancy tax because most locales have them.
It’s well past time for the Wilkes County commissioners and North Wilkesboro commissioners to request legislation requiring that places of lodging in their respective jurisdictions charge guests an occupancy tax.
One TDA board with representation from the entire county then needs to be created, along with having a single paid TDA director.