LUMBERTON — Robeson County officials are eyeing a countywide occupancy tax on hotels and other facilities that provide lodging as a way to find money to benefit the county.
“Our overall goal is to find a new revenue source that we can use to better the county,” said Patrick Pait, Robeson County’s attorney. “If the funds generated from the tax are limited to funding tourism as they have been traditionally, that would be great. If they can be used for anything else beneficial to the county, that would be even better.”
The county commissioners passed a resolution on Monday asking the county’s five-member state legislative delegation to seek state authorization for the county to levy a room occupancy tax.
“(The) county is interested in obtaining all potential revenue sources that can be generated to help all of the residents of Robeson County overcome the economic struggles of the past, present and future,” the resolution reads.
When contacted by The Robesonian this week, Reps. Garland Pierce and Ken Goodman, both Democrats, said they will sponsor the bill. Pierce, however, said that if the bill is to be filed in the upcoming legislative short session, all of the county’s legislators must be behind it.
Occupancy taxes, applied to the cost of a hotel room, have required approval from the state General Assembly since 1983. The tax can be implemented by just a county, just a municipality, or both. They usually are directly distributed by a tourism authority or the governing body of a county or municipality in which the tax revenue is generated.
Occupancy taxes usually are applied to any lodging property that also pays sales tax, including hotels, bed and breakfasts, cabins, condominiums, and homes that are rented over short-term periods. They are not applied to religious conference centers, colleges and universities, campgrounds and RV parks.
It varies by county and community, but a percentage of occupancy taxes must be used toward local tourism promotion and tourist related activities.
Four municipalities in Robeson County already charge an occupancy tax. They are Lumberton, 6 percent of the cost of the room; Pembroke, 3 percent; Rowland, 2 percent; and St. Pauls, 6 percent. Adjacent Cumberland County, which includes Fayetteville, has an occupancy tax of 6 percent.
Tom Taylor, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, said he is in favor of implementing an occupancy tax because it is a revenue source because it does not burden local residents.
“This is a tax that those passing through the county have to pay,” Taylor said. “It is not something that will put an additional financial burden on our property owners.”
Not everyone thinks a hotel occupancy tax is the best way to generate funds for the county. Pramit Patel, who has owned the Best Western in Lumberton for about 17 years, does not want to see another tax.
“I just don’t think it is a good idea,” Patel said. “The county should be focusing to bring businesses into the area without scaring them away with exuberant taxes.”
The total tax charged to someone staying at a hotel in Lumberton is 13 percent, Patel said. This includes the 6 percent occupancy tax and a 7 percent sales tax.
The chairman of the Lumberton Tourism Development Authority agreed with Patel.
“I don’t really know how it will affect our tourism since we are not a tourism destination, but rather a tourism stopover,” said Arnold West, who owns the Village Station and Arnold’s restaurants on N.C. 211, near Interstate 95. “We should be privileged that our tourists are stopping here without us taxing them to death. If there is more of a tax, it could upset what we have now.”
Currently all of the hotels along I-95 from Dillon, South Carolina, and Rowland to Roanoke Rapids are operating with the same 6 percent occupancy tax, he said.
“I think an additional occupancy tax may discourage travelers from stopping here and encourage them to go another hour to Florence or another 30 minutes to Fayetteville, where they would pay less,” West said.
Pait said county officials will have to meet with their state legislative delegation to discuss available options.
“We need to find out what they think will work,” he said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.