Five of the Carteret County Commissioners (Commissioners Bell, Dawsey, Wheatly, Muns, and Robinson) voted to repeal the County Occupancy Tax effective June 30, 2004. They stated they would get a new bill approved by the State Legislature in the 2004 Legislative Session. That sounds good, but seems unlikely based on past experience of getting Occupancy Tax Bills approved.
Occupancy taxes are collected from tourists that stay at lodging facilities throughout the county, not from the residents or property owners. For the Fiscal year just ended, approximately $3,200,000 was collected. Half of that amount went to the Tourism Development Authority (TDA) to promote tourism in Carteret County, and the other half was used for beach maintenance. Emerald Isle stands to lose $540,000 in FY 2004 that it had earmarked to make payments on the money borrowed for this past winter's nourishment project. Without the occupancy taxes, Emerald Isle could have to raise taxes 4 cents per hundred (almost 20%) on all property owners to cover the loss. The County Commissioners in effect will be shifting a tax burden from the visitors of our county to the property owners of our county.
In addition, there will be no money available to the TDA to try to attract tourists to the county, when the Outer Banks (Nags Head, Dare County, etc) are spending $4,000,000 plus per year. That most certainly will be a significant blow to the economy of the county.
Tourism is very important to the economic vitality of Carteret County. Many businesses that we depend on year round depend on the tourists for survival. The restaurants, hardware store, grocery store, drug store, book store, theatre, etc that we enjoy year round, would not be here without the summer tourist trade. We need the Occupancy Tax, collected from visitors not residents or property owners, to attract people to our County so we can continue to have the convenience of our local businesses.
The obvious question is "Why will it take so long to get a new Occupancy Tax enacted?". Occupancy Tax legislation is one of the most difficult pieces of legislation to get enacted, because there are so many groups that have to be in general agreement. The original Occupancy Tax bill was enacted in 1989, and was reviewed and amended in 2001.
The 2001 amendment of the Occupancy Tax bill was endorsed by our State Legislative Representatives, our County Commissioners, the Tourism Development Bureau, nine of the eleven Carteret County municipalities (Beaufort voted against and Atlantic Beach didn't express an opinion), the occupancy tax collectors, the Chamber of Commerce, Board of Realtors, Crystal Coast Hospitality Association, beach nourishment advocates, the North Carolina Hotel and Lodging Association, and the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Coalition. Any new legislation will likely have to be endorsed by all of the above groups.
The Commissioners individually have stated things they would like to see changed in the bill, but they have not agreed as a group on the changes they think need to be made. After the County Commissioners decide what changes they think need to be made, then all of the other interested parties will have to agree. The 2004 Legislative Session is a short session, and only non-controversial bills will be heard. Representative Preston and Senator Thomas will have to certify that all interested parties have accepted the proposed changes as presented. When interested parties disagree, hearings must be held and there will not be time for hearings in the 2004 Short Session.
I urge you to contact the five Commissioners that voted to repeal the Occupancy Tax, and ask them to rescind their action. I serve as Vice Chairman of the TDA and a member of the Beach Commission. I will continue to do what I can to insure that Carteret County retains an Occupancy Tax. Without this tax, paid by visitors to our area and not by property owners, tourism will suffer, as well as the many businesses and jobs that depend on tourism. The present Occupancy Tax Legislation is working very well for all of Carteret County, and changing the current legislation most certainly will not be agreeable to all of the groups that have an interest. If the Occupancy Tax repeal is not rescinded, most if not all Carteret County tax payers will most certainly be negatively affected.