08/23/07 — Duplin to put sales tax on ballot

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Duplin to put sales tax on ballot

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 23, 2007 1:46 PM

Come May, Duplin County residents will have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they want to pay an extra quarter cent in sales tax.

Wayne County commissioners are waiting to see if they want to seek the same taxing power.

Duplin voters will get the option because the county Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 Monday to ask for the local revenue stream, and 6-0 to put the referendum on the May ballot.

The commissioners were given the opportunity this year by the General Assembly, which, as part of its takeover of Medicaid costs and half-cent sales tax to pay for them, agreed to allow county governments a choice of replacement revenue sources.

If approved, Duplin commissioners also voted unanimously to put the resulting funds toward education facilities for both the public school system and James Sprunt Community College.

"We've been struggling with finding a way to fund facilities projects for schools and this is a way to do that," Commissioner L.S. Guy said.

Commissioner Zettie Williams also wanted infrastructure -- water and sewer -- to be included in the motion. But it wasn't, at least in part, because the revenues are only expected to be about $822,000 a year.

"You're not talking about a whole lot of money," county Manager Mike Aldridge said.

It is, though, the commissioners agreed, at least more than they would be getting otherwise.

Commission Chairman David Fussell, however, felt they would benefit more in the long run from the 0.4 percent land transfer tax. He also said that it is a fairer tax than the sales tax.

"Right now we're better off with the sales tax. But because the land transfer tax is more progressive, and if Duplin County grows -- and I think it will -- we may be better off to go with the land transfer fee," he said.

Those revenues are expected to be about $666,800.

But to the rest of the commission the sales tax was the better and more reliable avenue.

"People in North Carolina are accustomed to a sales tax and would probably come closer to voting for a sales tax because it spreads out the burden more," Guy said.

Still, they decided to wait until next spring to put the matter up to a vote for several reasons.

The first was because they had to make a decision Monday afternoon in order to get something on November's ballot.

The second was because doing so would have required the elections office to also open up the nine precincts not holding municipal elections. And that, elections director Suzanne Southerland explained, would have cost the county an unbudgeted $5,000, and the turnout, especially at those nine precincts, would likely have been fairly low.

But the third -- and perhaps biggest -- reason for delaying the vote, the commissioners said, is that it will give them more time to explain and promote the need for the tax.

And it's for that reason, that the Wayne County Board of Commissioners has not made a decision yet on whether it will ask for the sales tax, the land transfer tax or either one.

It's an issue board members are hoping to discuss with county residents during the next few weeks at a series of six town hall-style meetings at high schools around the county, beginning today at Rosewood High School from 6 until 8 p.m.