Tar Heel Tattler - May 2007

Occupancy tax draws a vacant expression
- Jerry Shinn

Seventy-three of the state's 100 counties levy a hotel-occupancy tax. So why not Caswell County? For one thing, Caswell, with a population of about 24,000, has just one hotel: the 45-room Days Inn in Yanceyville, the county seat. Its manager, Harry Patel, says such a tax would hurt business, though the hotel nearest his is about 10 miles away in Danville, Va.

A tax would generate only $3,000 to $3,500 a year, according to legislative fiscal analysts. For most counties, that wouldn't be a significant addition to the tourism budget. Caswell doesn't have such a budget. Though it boasts some historic homes - one used as a restaurant and gallery, another as a museum - and the town of Milton has a historic district dating to 1796, there aren't many attractions to promote. The county Web site also lists the Virginia International Raceway, just across the state line, but people who go there are more likely to stay in Danville.

State Sen. Tony Foriest, a Graham Democrat whose district includes Caswell, introduced a bill this session to authorize the tax. It passed the Senate and, by mid-April, had moved to the House. Foriest says he was responding to resolutions from county commissioners and the Yanceyville Town Council - both passed in 2005, before he was elected - requesting such a bill. "My position has been to help them do the kind of things they need to do. They have the option [if the bill passes] - 1%, 2%, 3% or none at all. It gives them another tool ... They're a lot closer to the situation than I am."

But they're farther out of the legislative loop than they would like to be. Commissioner Chairman George Ward was surprised to discover that the bill had been in-troduced. Commissioner Hester Vernon couldn't recall the resolution, even though he had voted on it, and says the board has no plans for how the money might be spent. Still, he adds, the county probably could use it to promote historic sites and for restoration work in Milton.

Who knows? With a few grand a year to promote itself, Caswell might draw enough tourists to lure another hotel someday. But the competition might not be good for Patel's business.