11/19/07 — County will eye sales tax hike vote

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County will eye sales tax hike vote

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 19, 2007 1:47 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners will attempt again Tuesday to discuss the potential of putting a local sales tax referendum on the ballot -- possibly as early as the May primary -- but no decision is expected to be made.

The opportunity to request county residents' approval of the quarter-cent sales tax was given to the commissioners by the state General Assembly as part of its Medicaid reform package this year.

After beginning a three-year phase-out of the counties' Medicaid burden, the state decided that it needed to withhold a portion of the counties' sales tax revenues to pay for the added expense. To help the counties make up those lost funds, it then offered them the opportunity to levy either a quarter-cent sales tax or a 0.4-percent land transfer tax, provided they could gain voter approval.

Since the option was given, though, the commissioners have routinely said they preferred the sales tax -- especially after all 16 counties with the land transfer tax on the ballot on Election Day saw it fail.

"I don't think we're even going to consider the land transfer tax. We think that it's just another property tax," Commission Chairman John Bell said.

They also feel that the sales tax is a more fair option.

"With the sales tax, everybody pays," Commissioner Bud Gray said. "With the property tax, it's just people with property paying, but everybody enjoys it."

The sales tax also appears to offer more revenue -- $2.57 million compared to $1.42 million with the land transfer tax, according to estimates from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.

But the key to getting voter approval, the commissioners have said, will be to make sure everybody understands where the proceeds are going to go.

"I think if people know it's going for schools and infrastructure, they'll support it," Gray said.

The issue was originally planned for discussion at the commission's Nov. 6 meeting, but was postponed because of County Manager Lee Smith's absence due to illness.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners are expected to continue discussions on the county Planning Board's recommendation to rezone Jack Smith's 11-acre lot in Fork Township to village district, which allows for limited residential and commercial use, and a neighboring 8.6-acre lot to community shopping.

A public hearing was held on the matter during the last meeting, but no decision was made by the board because of concerns about controlling driveway access to state roads U.S. 70 or N.C. 581.

Other matters on the board's agenda are the results of the county employee wellness survey and a request from the planning board that it help lobby the state Department of Transportation to include U.S. 117, N.C. 55, the I-40 connector and other county roads in the National Truck Network highway system.

Such a classification would allow trucks longer than 48 feet to travel on those roads. Currently the only routes in Wayne County that such trucks are legally allowed on are U.S. 70 and the new I-795 between U.S. 70 and I-95.

The commissioners' meeting will begin with a briefing session at 8 a.m. in the courthouse. The formal meeting will begin at 9 a.m.