01/06/09 — Counties asking for power to override 'no' votes

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Counties asking for power to override 'no' votes

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 6, 2009 1:46 PM

Could Wayne County officials authorize an increase in the local sales tax simply because voters in another county approved a similar measure?

The wording of the priority goal of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners indicates the organization is seeking that power.

That goal and other resolutions will be considered when the association meets next week in Raleigh.

The association's stated priority goal is legislation "to allow all counties to enact by resolution any or all revenue options from among those that have been authorized by any other county ... to preserve the existing local revenue base."

Those options could include a local option sales tax, impact taxes, real estate transfer taxes and prepared food taxes.

Asked if that meant Wayne could implement such a tax just because it had been approved in another county, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said that is his understanding of the provision.

Wayne voters said no last year to an increase in the local sales tax.

Along with the priority goal, the association has a laundry list of policy statements, including legislation requiring cities to reimburse counties for the loss of sales tax due to annexation.

Wayne commissioners were briefed Monday on those statements and will hold their own workshop on legislative goals and issues.

That priority goal and the association's policy statements from its seven committees will be discussed Jan. 15-16 at its Legislative Goals Conference at the Sheraton Raleigh.

A member of the Wayne board was to have been appointed Monday to act as a legislative liaison for the 2009-10 legislative biennium. The appointee will be a voting member at the conference.

Local issues include ensuring that Cherry Hospital is not closed and that the county be allowed to use 911 fees to help pay for its new $10 million communications system.

Several of the association's policy statements deal with modernizing annexation laws, including:

* Requiring the development of joint utility service plans for urbanizing areas.

* Increasing the degree of urbanization required to annex property.

* Requiring a referendum on proposed involuntary annexation in an area where public services -- water, sewer and solid waste -- are already in place.

* Requiring the direct provision of municipal water and sewer services to customers within five years of an annexation.

The association also supports funding of agricultural research and extension services, conservation of working lands and farmland preservation and funding for health and social services.

Other policy statements include legislation that would:

* Provide state assistance to meet public school and community college construction needs through either a statewide bond referendum and/or through authority for counties to raise additional revenues.

* Ensure that the Public School Capital Building Fund remains intact.

* Support an average daily membership distribution in the School Capital Fund formula applying to lottery proceeds. According to the association the counties should be allow to supplant local funds with lottery proceeds that should be distributed on a quarterly basis.

* Limit state-mandated testing on private wells.

* Provide greater county discretion to establish inspection fees for food and lodging facilities.

* Support funding for regional councils to develop and implement multi-jurisdictional water resource management planning and programs.

* Streamline the permitting of local water supply reservoirs.

* Increase the "general aid to county" funding for local health departments to build necessary infrastructure and support the capacity to provide essential public health services.

* Reform the state's Worker's Compensation system to reduce disability findings and open-ended streams of payment to address the trend in favor of long-term disability findings, to diminish control over these findings on the part of claimants and their legal representatives and to curtail adoption of rules that limit return-to-work efforts.

* Allow counties to collect additional court facilities fees to help fund capital, operation and other needs associated with the courts.