04/03/07 — Duplin commissioners tax idea hits one-vote blockade

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Duplin commissioners tax idea hits one-vote blockade

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 3, 2007 1:57 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The majority of Duplin County commissioners asked for his help, but a second 5-to-1 vote wasn't enough to convince state Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, to pledge his support for their request for a local option half-cent sales tax.

"I think it's only fair you have a unanimous vote if you want me to do this," Albertson told the board.

He also said that to gain his support for the measure, the commissioners would have to make the decision about the sales tax themselves, rather than putting it to a public referendum as they had originally planned.

"That's the best thing, I think," Albertson said. "You and I were elected to make these decisions. If you're going to do it, then you need to do it."

Debate on the matter began in February when board members voted, 5 to 1, to ask their state delegation to introduce legislation to allow them the option of passing a one-cent local option sales tax -- half of which would go for school construction and other capital projects, and half for county construction and other capital projects.

That request was later amended to simply a half-cent sales tax for school construction -- piggybacking on a similar request by Sampson County.

Commission Chairman David Fussell was the only member to vote against the request then, saying, "It's another tax. I'm not sure that's in our best interests."

But the other commissioners -- with the exception of Reginald Wells who called the board "hypocritical" -- felt that even as they worked to lower the property tax rate from 80.5 cents to 79 cents per $100 value, a half-cent sales tax hike would be appropriate to help fund school construction.

"The great majority of the people I've spoken to are in favor of the sales tax because they say some people in the county are not paying their fair share," commissioner Cary Turner said. "We have people who come to this county and don't pay anything (in property tax). The sales tax is one of the most fair taxes there is."

And with that thought and Albertson's warning in mind, the board voted again Monday.

The result, however, was the same -- 5-1, with Fussell the lone vote in opposition.

"Since I have been on the board, I have lamented the fact that due to our high tax rate in Duplin County, we have not benefited from (North Carolina's good business climate)," Fussell said. "We have programs within the county that are non-essential and as long as we continue to fund those, I think it is too much of a burden to add another tax.

"I cannot vote for it if we continue to fund non-essential programs not related to education, public safety or economic development."

Commissioner L.S. Guy protested, though, that the money from the half-cent sales tax would be going only for school construction needs.

"It's not going to be wasted, Mr. Fussell," he said. "It's money that's going specifically to one of our stated goals."

Fussell, however, said they should be trying to find money within their budget to support the school system.

And so, because they couldn't come to an agreement, Albertson confirmed that he would not be taking Duplin's request forward.

"No. I'm not going to piggyback their request for them," he said. "It's only fair they have a unanimous vote."

It was a disappointing decision, Guy said, especially since state Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, had pledged his support for the measure -- with a public referendum -- earlier Monday.

"I understand what (Albertson) wants," Guy said. "But I would be disappointed (if he didn't support the half-cent sales tax, too)."