By Linda Cicoira — The transient occupancy tax rate on Chincoteague will go up from 4% to 5% beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the town council decided Monday night in an effort to raise money to provide services for the growing number of tourists who visit the island.
The change was initially proposed to begin in January 2020. Council delayed the move at the request of rental owners who have already accepted bookings and quoted prices for the upcoming season. The tax is on lodging and campsites. The hike will raise between $300,000 and $320,000. If money is needed in 2020 for services it will come from town savings, officials said.
According to the agenda packet, Chincoteague added additional emergency workers to respond to the growth. The tax increase will also help fund additional police and public works services “such as park maintenance and development projects which serve the visiting public.” It was noted the hike “was not proposed to fund the purchase of the former Main Street fire hall.”
Ace Seybolt, co-owner of Chincoteague Resort Vacations and Long & Foster – Chincoteague & Captain’s Cove, spoke against the tax. “I feel like the money should go to the homeowners,” he said. Seybolt claimed the increase would put Chincoteague in competition with beaches that have direct access. Seybolt also wanted to make sure the tax revenue was spent to promote tourism.
Cynthia Wilder, of the Refuge Inn, favored the increase but was against it happening next year. She also wanted the money earmarked for tourism. “Take every step that you can to bring in those independent rentals like Airbnbs out there listed online but” not paying, Wilder said.
“I don’t feel like the local taxpayers should be paying,” said Councilman Eddie Lewis, a former police chief for the town. He recently paid a tax of $25 a night in Pennsylvania. The increase “will be a big help to our EMS and police department,” Lewis added.
“You can look up and down the Eastern Shore, the residents here pay some of the lowest real estate and personal property taxes anywhere,” said Councilwoman Denise Bowden. “What they (fire and rescue) provide, it’s amazing.” Bowden, a member of and spokesperson for the volunteer fire company has driven the ambulance. “Not a whole lot of Chincoteaguers using the ambulance service … You have to take care of the people who are here but you have to take care of the people who are spending the money too … As much as we love the tourists, they do put a strain on the services in the town. I think this one percent increase will be put to good use. To help maintain and grow what we have now.”
Councilwoman Ellen Richardson wondered how the town’s money is stretched as far as it is and praised Town Manager Jim West and other town employees. “You’ve got to have your services. Volunteers are getting older.”
A decision about the corresponding budget amendment was put off for another month.
The council approved a resolution supporting Chincoteague’s inclusion in the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, a move towards having central sewage.
The town’s peddler ordinance was also amended. The change prohibits the parking of trucks, wagons, carts, or other vehicles “within the business district or at any location upon any private property without the consent of the property owner … for a period of no longer than four hours in any day and no closer than 100 feet of any store, shop or stand from which similar merchandise is sold. No truck, wagon, cart or vehicle being used for peddling shall be placed on public property without the consent of the town or other public body.”
The mayor and council also discussed moving forward with allowing golf carts on town streets. No action was taken as officials appeared to agree the carts would create more work for town employees due to the need for restrictions regarding insurance, equipment, maintenance, inspection stickers, and guidelines on usage between sunrise and sunset.