Capitalizing on tourism, Rocky Mount leaders consider lodging tax increase

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ROCKY MOUNT (WSLS 10) - Rocky Mount leaders consider a nearly $11-million dollar budget. Part of that budget includes an increase in the lodging tax to increase tourism in the area. But, some local businesses told us they fear the tax will negatively affect their bottom lines.

"We've made big strides in the last few years," commented Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins, who's also the director of community development.

Hankins told us since the Harvester Performance Center opened its doors two years ago more people, about 50,000, are visiting the area each year.

"Lodging tax is increasing; it has been increasing for the last three years pretty steadily," said Hankins. "That's because, more people are coming here, staying for concerts and staying overnight."

Hankins said town leaders want to market the town as a destination and capitalize on the tourism. But, in order to expand tourism efforts, the town council is considering a lodging tax increase of 2.5 percent.

Right now, the lodging tax is at 5 percent. This increase would bring the tax to 7.5 percent.

"It's on the back of visitors who are coming here to spend their money," said Tony Leete, owner and manager of the Claiborne House Bed and Breakfast. "We want to give folks incentive to come to Rocky Mount. We don't want to penalize them for the sake of economic impact."

Leete said the higher the taxes the harder it is to get people to stay at his B & B.

"I met with the hotel operators back in December and generally they were supportive of an increase if that helps put more heads in their beds," said Hankins.

Overall, everyone agrees in the end goal: a boost in tourism. However, not every hotel agrees with increasing the lodging tax.

Hankins added the tax increase would generate $60,000 that would be devoted to branding the town as a destination. It's money the town doesn't have now to develop tourism efforts, but if approved, Hankins said could start to see some green starting July.

Other changes include an increase to the town's garbage fee, raises for city employees and more funding for emergency services. The town will vote on the proposed budget in May.

The public hearing on the budget will be held April 25th at the Municipal Office.