During the second meeting called by Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox to discuss possible revenue sources for supplemental beach renourishment funding on Wednesday, April 30, the focus of conversation shifted to splitting the additional funding across multiple different county tax increases.
The meetings have included representatives from New Hanover County, the three county beach towns, Wilmington, the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority Board of Directors, and the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.
At the conclusion of the first meeting, held on April 15, it was determined that the county finance office would investigate how much revenue a one percent prepared food and beverage tax would generate for Coastal Storm Damage Reduction projects.
However, county finance director Lisa Wurtzbacher said she was not confident in the numbers the North Carolina Department of Revenue provided her. Wurtzbacher said the state could only look at the annual sales receipts for New Hanover County businesses to project the impacts of a prepared food and beverage tax, and that some of those numbers appeared very low.
“For example, their report showed a pretty popular restaurant in Wilmington only having $9,000 in annual sales,” Wurtzbacher said.
Wurtzbacher said she would try to get a better estimate of what a county wide prepared food and beverage tax would generate.
Another option discussed at Wednesday’s meeting was an increase in the 6 percent Room Occupancy Tax.
The two individuals at the meeting that work in the hotel industry were Carolina Beach Mayor Pro Tem LeAnn Pierce and Blockade Runner Beach Resort co-owner Mary Baggett Martin.
When asked whether or not tourists would notice the percent or percent and a half increase in ROT, Pierce said she did not think so, but Baggett said large groups would.
“I am in the business of trying to get group business and when they have professional meeting planners setting it up they look at the tax picture,” Martin said. “We are already competing against South Carolina whose total hotel tax is 9 percent whereas we are already at 13 percent.”
Increasing sales tax was also discussed but Wilcox and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said the additional revenue would ideally come from a hybrid of different incremental tax increases.
Saffo said one reason for a hybrid would be because a sales or prepared food and beverage tax increase would need approval by the North Carolina General Assembly where the increases could meet resistance if only one industry was targeted.
“Knowing the people in Raleigh I think if you go to any one group and ask them to take care of this you will have a fight on your hands,” Saffo said. “I think the lobbyists in Raleigh that represent these industries would dig their heels in.”