Update: Online Travel Litigation
On January 14, 2008, Mecklenburg County filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Mecklenburg County against 13 on-line travel companies, including Hotwire, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, seeking to recover for underpayment of hotel occupancy taxes. Similar lawsuits, currently pending in the North Carolina Superior Court, have been brought by Wake County, Buncombe County, and Dare County against on-line travel companies.
Mecklenburg County levies an 8% occupancy tax on hotel accommodations. The lawsuit maintains that the on-line travel companies failed to collect or collected and failed to remit the full tax in connection with renting hotel rooms in Mecklenburg County.
The lawsuit requests the Court to award Mecklenburg County not only monetary damages and penalties, but also to enter a declaratory judgment requiring the on-line travel companies to collect the County’s full tax from consumers and pay the full tax to the County.
The on-line travel companies will be receiving copies of the Complaint and Civil Summons and will have 60 days from service to respond to the Complaint.
This past Sunday The Charlotte Observer reported that the City of Charlotte will be requesting additional funding to pay a share of proposed additional spending on the 311 city/county customer service center. In the November 9, 2007 Board Bulletin, the Board was alerted to this possibility, based on the need to address staff turnover and technology issues that have occurred some time after the City launched 311 in July 2005.
In the current fiscal year, we budgeted $1.5 million for services from 311. The center handles roughly 285,000 County service calls annually with the majority being related to property assessment and tax collection matters. This equates to approximately $5.26 per call. The additional investment in 311 is intended to build the capacity to increase the number of calls that can be handled by 311. The desired outcome is to reduce the cost per call while improving customer service and satisfaction.
The 311 city/county customer service center is a consolidated service that falls within the interlocal agreement between the City and County. This agreement calls for the County to fund 26% of the operational budget for this service, with the City paying the remaining 74%. As we do with any projected cost increase, we will evaluate the choices and consequences associated with the City’s proposal as we develop next year’s budget recommendation.
Building Permitting Trends
Recent media reports regarding building permits in Mecklenburg County have presented only partial information on the rate of construction in our community. The following figures present a full assessment of Mecklenburg’s growth and development trends.
For the six month period between July and December, 2007, construction in Mecklenburg County was down slightly from the previous year (see the table 1). However, construction activity remains at high levels, mostly due to continuing strong commercial market.