Admission prices to Airlie Gardens will increase for some visitors, along with memberships and admission to other events, as a result of the North Carolina Tax Simplification and Reduction Act, which became law in 2013.
The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners’ first meeting of the year Jan. 6 included a discussion of the proposed fee hikes, which Chairman Woody White requested be moved off the consent agenda. White said he would not vote for the item, because it had the net effect of expanding the scope of government.
The changes to state tax law require some organizations, such as nonprofits and local governments, to tax previously exempt transactions for admission to events. The law officially went into effect Jan. 1.
Tara Duckworth, New Hanover County Parks and Gardens Director said during the Thursday, Jan. 2 agenda briefing a 7 percent sales tax would apply to general admission to the gardens, as well as special events and programs throughout the year. Rather than charge the 35 cents that would, for example, be required for a county resident purchasing a ticket, the tax will be included in the advertised price. That price will stay the same for residents, children and present and former military personnel.
To offset the loss of income from the tax, the general admission price for nonmember, nonresident adults will increase from $8 to $9. Other special events and ticket prices will increase marginally, such as the gardens’ kayak eco-tours, shifting from $50 to $55.
White expressed concern the fee increases would amount to additional county taxes beyond the scope of the state’s tax increase. In response, Duckworth insisted the change would be essentially budget-neutral, and not rounding the increased costs would incur other logistical costs. Change for a $10 bill, she said, would be easier under the proposed prices for staff to give patrons, opposed to exact amounts reflective of the tax, especially when multiplied by thousands of attendees to events.
During the board’s Jan. 6 regular meeting, after a presentation by Duckworth and Airlie Gardens Foundation Board of Directors President Zeke Partin, White suggested a rider on the proposal that would allow prices to return to previous levels if the state legislature reverses the changes in the next legislative session.
“I’ve heard there is a huge movement across the state that there will very likely be a budget rewrite in the short session to deal with some nonprofits and taxes that apply,” White said. County attorney Wanda Copley said she was unsure whether such a rider would be effective, and recommended a vote on the fee adjustment as it was proposed.
The board voted 4-0 to approve the fee schedule modification. Commissioner Brian Berger was absent from the meeting.
As a consent agenda item, the board also passed a list of 2014 Congressional Priorities to submit to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, including a request to revise the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.