02/14/08 — Efforts begin to push sales tax vote in Duplin

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Efforts begin to push sales tax vote in Duplin

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 14, 2008 2:00 PM

Hoping to convince residents of the need for a new revenue stream before the May 6 vote, a small committee of Duplin County commissioners and school board members decided Tuesday to recommend to their respective boards, the adoption and printing of brochures as part of a grassroots effort to highlight the benefits of the proposed quarter-cent sales tax hike.

The increase, which must be approved by county voters in a referendum before it can be enacted by the commissioners, is part of last year's Medicaid relief package passed by the state General Assembly.

In Duplin County, it is projected to provide slightly more than $800,000.

In the brochure, which is to be distributed to individuals, community groups, churches and civic organizations across the county, that revenue increase is described as equaling about three cents on the property tax rate.

The funds are said to be intended for educational purposes for both the public schools and James Sprunt Community College, though no specific plans have been made.

The goal, the brochure continues, is to make sure that everybody is paying into the school system, not just the property owners.

But, while both boards seem to agree on the need for the extra funds, there still is some disagreement on whether or not a formal facilities plan needs to be put in place.

At its meeting last week, the board of education heard updated population and cost estimates from architect Robbie Ferris on the original proposal, as well as several introduced earlier by member Jennings Outlaw.

No decision was made, though, and there is no timetable for coming to an agreement.

"I think North Duplin made a good argument for community schools and keeping four high schools in the county (by sending nearly 100 people to the meeting)," Outlaw said. "And there are several options on the table, but I'm not sure where we go from here."

The goal, though, seems to be to have something in place relatively soon.

"I think we're moving closer to a final, agreed upon plan -- something the county commissioners, the board of education and everybody can buy into and fund," said school board member Chuck Farrior. "I would hope by mid-March we should have something pretty well decided, but I think (the shape of it) is still pretty much up in the air."

"We know we have to come up with a plan and move forward," member Reginald Kenan added. "We just have to do what we think is best for Duplin County and live with that."

Still, they feel that the tax can pass without a specific plan in place.

"I think the fact is clear that we need to renovate buildings and that we need to do some major modifications as soon as possible," county school Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby said. "And the fact is, regardless of what the final facilities plan is, the school system needs money to do it with, and the revenues from the quarter-cent sales tax will only be a portion."

Others, though, are concerned that, with a consolidated high school involving James Kenan, the B.F. Grady portion of East Duplin and possibly North Duplin still in the picture, the sales tax will be dead before it even comes to a vote.

"(The plan) needs to be specific," Commissioner Cary Turner said. "I'm not going to support the plan they've proposed in any way, and nor will the people in North Duplin and the people in B.F. Grady. They're not going to go against themselves.

"The way I see it, it's in the board of education's lap. They should come out and make a statement and say the money's not for that (plan)."

But between the two boards, most are more optimistic.

"I really believe that if we give them the information and be straightforward and honest with people, that it'll pass," Commissioner L.S. Guy said. "I believe the people of Duplin County want to support education and that they know the great needs we have and that this is one way to help pay for those."