Room tax revenue up in Haywood, thanks in part to audit

Lodging tax revenue was up during the past year in Haywood County, and could see another boost in the new fiscal year after the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority decided to get tough on delinquent taxpayers.

 

TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins projected a conservative 1 percent to 2 percent increase in room tax collections for overnight accommodations for the year, but tax revenues as of April actually show a 5.6 percent increase compared to last year, meaning estimates may be conservative.

“We will probably come out with a slight surplus,” said Ken Stahl, TDA board finance chair. “We are probably going to have a fairly good year.”

Fellow TDA board member Sue Knapko attributed the jump to the weather.

“The ski season went longer this year, and spring break coincided with that,” Knapko said.

This fiscal year, however, the TDA may be able to link a rise in lodging tax revenue to an increase in collections, more so than just an increase in overnight stays alone. Last year, the authority hired Tax Management Associates to find lodging owners who were not paying the tax. The company will receive 45 percent of whatever the TDA receives in late taxes.

The lodging tax is a 4 percent levy tacked onto the bills of people who stay overnight in one of Haywood County’s accommodations, which are supposed to hand the tax money over to the county TDA to use for tourism promotions.

So far, about 40 lodging owners who were not previously paying the tax have been found. Those who do not begin paying the tax as well as any back taxes owed to the TDA may face a lawsuit or be handed over to the county tax collector who has the authority to extract money from the paychecks or personal bank accounts of debtors.

A few accommodations appealed to the TDA board, asking it to waive the late fees charged in addition to the back tax, and two also asked that the authority forgive at least part of the overdue taxes. Lodging owners said they were not aware of their obligation to collect the tax.

“Ignorance is not an excuse,” said Mike Sorrells, a county commissioner and TDA board member. “But some of these do sound like they had no idea.”

Some may be the owners of single vacation cabins who occasionally rent out their mountain homes for a week here and there.

The board voted not to grant the lodging owners waivers, however, citing ways in which the TDA has tried to inform anyone renting rooms to visitors multiple times about their responsibility to pay the taxes.

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