Three New Hanover County beach towns requested half of the second 3 percent of the countywide 6 percent Room Occupancy Tax for beach renourishment projects, but on March 26, the Tourism Development Authority Board of Directors voted to maintain ROT distributions.
The vote was split 9-6 with the slight majority voting for board member Frank Jones’ motion.
The votes in favor consisted of Suburban Extended Stay Hotel manager Frank Jones, Network Real Estate vacation rental manager Neal Johnson, Hilton Wilmington Riverside general manager Michael Keeler, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Connie Majure-Rhett, Cape Fear Riverboats owner Carl Marshburn, Blockade Runner Beach Resort general manager Nicolas Montoya, The Verandas Bed and Breakfast co-owner Charles Pennington, Catch Seafood co-owner Angela Rhodes and New Hanover County Commissioner Johathan Barfield.
Of the elected officials on the board, Barfield was the only one to vote for the motion. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo joined Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair, Kure Beach Mayor Dean Lambeth, and Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox and Mayor Pro Tem LeAnn Pierce in voting against the motion.
The half of the second 3 percent in question is currently used by the TDA for marketing the county and beaches, as well as funding tourism-related expenditures.
With the federal and state governments contributing less and less to beach renourishment, or Coastal Storm Damage Reduction projects, the three beach town mayors said they should be able to use some of that half to help fund upcoming projects.
“I don’t think any of us see this as a long-term solution,” said Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox. “We see our beaches as the main tourism generator and we are bringing this to the TDA in hopes that you can help us out in the short term.”
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said it would be unwise to take away from the TDA’s marketing budget.
“No smart businessman cuts advertising money,” Barfield said. “I have always been in favor of increasing the marketing budget and I would rather see us increase the Room Occupancy Tax to 8 percent to compete with a place like Myrtle Beach.”
Board member Frank Jones, who made the motion to secure the distribution as is, said the beach towns’ request felt rushed.
“We are rushing into this without any plan about how much you are going to take and for how long,” Jones said. “I know you guys needed something done yesterday, but I think there are other ways to make this happen.”
The North Carolina General Assembly would have ultimate authority to allow the beach towns access to the additional funds.
After the board’s meeting, Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said he did not know if the beach towns would continue with the request to local delegates like Rep. Ted Davis Jr., R-New Hanover, who was in attendance at the meeting.
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