New tax approved to generate more tourism dollars

First Posted: 6/16/2009

DOBSON Surry County is only one step away from a law that will allow it to impose a 6-percent occupancy tax in unincorporated areas of the county.
The Senate ratified its version of House Bill 395 yesterday and sent the legislation to Gov. Bev Perdue for her signature, said a representative from 90th Rep. Sarah Stevens office on Tuesday.
Stevens and District 92 Rep. Darrell McCormick are primary sponsors of the bill and announced their support of the effort in April.
The bill targets most for-profit lodging establishments, including hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast inns, while accommodations furnished by nonprofit charitable, educational or religious organizations are exempt.
Room occupancy taxes of 6 percent are already in place in all of the local townships and cities in Surry County, but those not located in any towns city limits are exempt from the tax.
The tax is aimed at those who are traveling through or in the county, and the way the tax works it only affects visitors staying locally. Its revenues are allocated specifically for tourism-related expenditures such as tourism promotion and marketing.
Revenues from the tax are collected quarterly and distributed to tourism development authorities in Dobson, Elkin, Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain. Those groups will in turn give one-third of the money to the Tourism Partnership of Surry County, chaired by Valerie Oberle. That organization combines the tourism marketing efforts of the county and its four municipalities. Once the bill is signed into law by Perdue, the extra money will go to those organizations.
I was extremely pleased that (the bill) was ratified. It is extremely important to Surry County and its municipalities to bring funds to the table because Surry County has economic prosperity in tourism. Tourism is part of its economic drive, Oberle said Tuesday. Weve already been working together with the county, and this will allow us to be much more efficient. The county has been a great partner so far, and were going to continue as we move forward in marketing and planning.
Jessica Icenhour said its definitely positive for the bill to have moved along, and she added that it harmonizes the tourism efforts between agencies.
It lets us all band together and be cohesive. We all know whats going on and this makes it easier for us to partner.
Chris Knopf is the assistant county manager for economic development and tourism and also serves on the Tourism Partnership of Surry County board as a representative of the county. The board also has representatives for Dobson, Elkin, Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain.
Knopf said the revenue from the unincorporated tax will be handled by the Surry County Tourism Development Authority, which is already under way. The agency will manage its revenues in the same manner as existing tourism agencies in the other municipalities spending for tourism-related expenditures and give one-third to the tourism partnership.
In most situations once a legislation is in effect, an agency is set up to manage the revenue. We will establish one as well, we already have a group thats been meeting and that group will evolve into the TDA, ours (will be) very similar to existing ones, he said.
The board will meet quarterly, establish a budget and develop a work plan at the appropriate time, he said. But before then, the county commissioners must consider a resolution to adopt the tax locally, he added.
He said while its still too early to pinpoint specific projects and plans for exactly how the county TDA will implement its revenues, he said it will mostly likely participate in existing programs.
There are major programs and things we already do, well continue to reinvest in businesses to bring tourists here (as with) our grant program which is a good program. We want to see it grow.
During the National Travel and Tourism week last month, the Surry County Tourism Development Authority awarded 2009 Tourism Incentive Grants totaling $18,044 to Carolina Heritage Vineyard ($5,000), Klondike Cabins ($5,000), Round Peak Vineyards ($4,000), Grassy Creek Vineyard and Winery ($3,500) and the Rockford Preservation Society ($544).
The program is a 50/50 matching grant initiative designed to assist the applicant with paid advertising, regional tourism memberships, new equipment or materials, business infrastructure, brochures and festival or special event planning.
Oberle said she expects the additional revenue that would be generated from an occupancy tax in unincorporated areas of the county to show a significant impact with tourism efforts in the area.
I expect a greater impact in the revenue with the county contributing along with the four municipalities. It helps (the partnership), it helps everyone. The (county) has been particularly helpful with projects and working together.
Oberle said she is impressed with progression of the bill in the N.C. General Assembly and said shes grateful to Stevens for her support in the bill.
I sincerely thank Sarah Stevens for being very supportive in helping get this passed, she said.
Contact Erin C. Perkins at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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