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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Beach leaders still seek renourishment supplement

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During a second meeting called by Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox to discuss possible revenue sources for supplemental beach renourishment funding April 30, the focus of conversation shifted to spreading additional funding needed across multiple New Hanover County tax increases.

The meetings have included representatives from New Hanover County, its three 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 April 15, it was determined that the county finance office would investigate how much revenue a 1 percent prepared food and beverage tax would generate for Coastal Storm Damage Reduction projects, the new more descriptive term for beach renourishment.

However, county finance director Lisa Wurtzbacher said she was not confident in the numbers the North Carolina Department of Revenue provided. 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 some of those numbers seemed low.

“For example, their report showed a pretty popular restaurant in Wilmington only having $9,000 in annual sales,” Wurtzbacher said.

She said she would try to get a better estimate of what a countywide prepared food and beverage tax would generate.

An increase in the 6 percent Room Occupancy Tax was another option discussed.

The two individuals present at the meeting who 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 tourists would notice the percent or percent and one-half ROT increase, 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, at which stage the increases could meet resistance.

“The lobbyists in Raleigh that represent these industries would dig their heels in,” Saffo said.

The next meeting to discuss future supplemental Coastal Storm Damage Reduction project funding has not yet been scheduled.

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