Fifteen of North Carolina’s 100 county governments don’t impose an occupancy tax on places of lodging and Wilkes is one of them.
It’s well past time for that to change.
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 the like in 2010, but a few months later tabled the matter.
The county commissioners have discussed the possibility of establishing an occupancy tax every few years since then, testing the waters and then dropping the subject out of apparent fear of adverse political ramifications from supporting that ugly word — TAX.
The fact that it would be a tax imposed on visitors who uses local services while they’re here and not Wilkes residents, and that people who often travel expect to pay an occupancy tax, hasn’t been enough to secure approval by the Wilkes County commissioners.
Nor has it seemed to matter that an occupancy tax on places of lodging outside the municipalities would raise tens of thousands of dollars that could be used to promote Wilkes as a destination for tourists and other travelers, thereby boosting the financial wellbeing of people who do live here.
In 2016, the county commissioners heard Wilkes Planning Director Eddie Barnes estimate that a 6% occupancy tax on areas outside the towns in Wilkes would generate $60,000 to $80,000 annually.
Considering that a 6% occupancy tax on areas of Surry County outside Mount Airy, Elkin, Pilot Mountain and Dobson raised $109,562 in fiscal 2017-18, a 6% lodging tax on unincorporated areas of Wilkes should raise over $100,000 now. The four municipalities in Surry also each have a 6% occupancy tax.
A 3% occupancy tax on unincorporated areas of Caldwell County raised $131,365 in 2017-18. Watauga County’s 6% occupancy tax on areas outside its towns secured a whopping $1.6 million that year.
Most county and town governments in North Carolina have either a 3% or a 6% occupancy tax and 6% is by far more common. Wilkesboro’s 3% occupancy tax, in place since 2001, typically raises over $150,000 per year.
An occupancy tax been needed for a long time in Wilkes, but it makes even more sense now because of an increase in the number of rental cabins and commercial campgrounds and the advent of abnbs.
An extensive study on housing needs in Wilkes, completed earlier this year, estimated about 1,500 “seasonal” housing units in Wilkes. These include dozens of vacation rentals in the Leatherwood and Buck Mountain developments of western Wilkes and newly-established commercial campgrounds scattered across the county.
The Wilkes County commissioners should at least schedule a public hearing on establishing an occupancy tax when the opportunity to do so comes up at their March 2 meeting so arguments for and against can be aired for all to hear. We think a stronger case will be made for imposing this tax, as most other local governments in North Carolina have done.