TDA looks to tax collector to crack down on delinquent tourism taxpayers

Delinquent payers of the tourism room tax in Haywood County will soon have the tax collector knocking on their door.

County commissioners approved a resolution that will allow the tax collector to recover money from hotel and motel owners not paying the county’s 4-percent occupancy tax.

“It’s not fair when you’ve got some people who are paying on time every month and some people quit paying,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “Over the years, it has become an increasing problem.”

The tax is supposed to be tacked on to a tourist’s bill when they stay in a hotel, bed and breakfast or vacation home rental. Lodging owners then remit the tax they collect to the county on a monthly basis. The Tourism Development Authority uses revenue from the tax to fund advertising campaigns, area events and other tourism-related expenditures.

“How do you know if they’ve not paid?” asked Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

Collins said that she can read newspapers, look on websites or simply drive by lodging establishments that she knows are not paying and see them still accepting customers.

Room tax money is paid to the county finance office, which keeps a small percentage of the tax to pay its employees. However, the TDA was responsible for contacting businesses who were behind in their tax payment or those who did not pay. The TDA, however, does not have anything close to the authority that the county tax collector has. Tax collectors can garnish wages or take money directly from a business’ bank account if it is not paying.

For years, the tourism authority board has struggled with ways to bring accommodation owners into compliance. Each meeting, the board is presented with a list of people who owe overdue taxes.

“This is an ongoing issue,” said Commissioner Mike Sorrells, who also sits on the tourism board. “Every meeting, this is discussed.”

In some cases — continued delinquency or flat out refusal to pay — the TDA will still need to resort to legal action to collect its dues.

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