March 17, 2015
Open letter to the Hyde County Board of Commissioners
Ocracoke’s Occupancy Tax is the only opportunity for the people of Ocracoke to choose where to spend funds for the benefit of Ocracoke. Through the years, the Board has labored to see that the occupancy taxes are allocated to the various applicants where they can do the most good for the community.
Ocracoke’s economy has suffered along with the rest of the nation with a dismal economic recovery. We have also been affected by over regulation, high gas prices and Mother Nature’s relentless assault on Route 12 and the ferry channels. Despite these adversities, we have endured.
Why is Hyde County insisting on inserting itself where we have exercised such good judgment in dispersing the occupancy funds that the Hyde County Commissioners have consistently ratified our decisions? Why is the County Manager pushing so hard to create a county government position to administer our marketing efforts and taking $100,000 of our occupancy funds to do it?
We are told they will increase Ocracoke’s lodging sales by 20 percent resulting in a $100,000 increase in occupancy tax revenue to make the proposed new county position and county administered marketing efforts self-supporting. I do not see how it can it be done. Five months of the year, November through March, will contribute little to this effort because other than a weekend here or there, the rate of occupancy approaches zero and there isn’t much enthusiasm to effect a change. Three months, June-August, have occupancy rates of 80 to 95 percent, leaving little room for improvement. That leaves those shoulder months, April-May and September-October. Those four months last year generated $142,000 in occupancy tax revenue. To achieve the goal of $100,000, lodging sales would have to increase up to 70 percent for those four months. Further study may show that shoulder season lodging is primarily weekends at discounted rates. This would mean having to not only increase the numbers for weekend stays, but also creating a huge increase in longer stays.
Looking at 2013 numbers, lodging sales were about $14 million on Ocracoke and county retail, restaurants and grocery sales approached $40 million. Taking an estimated 10 percent off for the mainland, still leaves $35 to $36 million in Ocracoke. What I’m saying here is that while lodging produces occupancy tax, the other island establishments contribute 2 ½ times more to our economy and much of that comes from “day visitors.”
While I sincerely thank Kris Noble and Sarah Johnson for their efforts, I do not agree with the plan that the county is proposing. I do agree that Ocracoke’s marketing efforts need to be focused and coordinated. I see no need to establish a county government position for marketing. I do see a need for some qualified outside help to figure where we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there. A local ad hoc committee could be formed to find those people.
The marketing opportunities for Ocracoke could benefit from professional evaluation and a professional marketing plan executed by professional marketing people. In collaboration with OCBA, we would appreciate the opportunity to pursue this course and reevaluate our position in a couple of years.
I sincerely ask that the Hyde County Commissioners vote this proposal down.
Editor’s note: While Frank Brown is the chair of the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board, these are his personal comments. Hyde County in 2014 collected $446,380 in Occupancy Tax revenue. See related story here.