01/15/09 — Wayne commissioners support expanded revenue sources

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Wayne commissioners support expanded revenue sources

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 15, 2009 1:46 PM

When the state Association of County Commissioners meets today, Wayne County commissioners are expected to support the legislative goals of the association -- goals whose primary interest is preserving the local revenue base.

That protection would take the form of a menu of tax options -- local option sales taxes, prepared food taxes, impact taxes and real estate transfer taxes.

Wayne's commissioners have ruled out a property tax increase, but appear more amicable toward the sales tax portion of the menu.

As worded, the legislation sought would allow commissioners to enact the sales tax increase by resolution, bypassing a public vote.

Commissioner Chairman Bud Gray has said the board would consider the sales tax and in a Tuesday interview, County Manager Lee Smith said commissioners had indicated they would still hold a referendum on it before considering making it law. Wayne voters said no to a proposed increase in the sales tax last year.

The goals will be discussed today and Friday during the association's annual legislative conference at the Sheraton Raleigh.

The entire commission, except for Commissioner Andy Anderson, who is out of town, is expected to attend today's daylong session, along with Smith and clerk Marcia Wilson.

They will go up for the day and some could return for Friday's half-day session. Gray, as chairman, will be the commission's voting delegate.

Commissioners were briefed on the general goals during a work session Jan. 6 but took no action.

"It will be the responsibility of board members who are up there to talk with the chair, who will go back on Friday, I assume they are taking votes on these issues Friday, to vote on these general options these things that will be supported or opposed by the association," Smith said. "Sometimes that means we take a different stand than everybody else."

On today, association staff members will go over in general terms what the association is supporting, Smith said.

"The first thing that they are pushing this year is this menu of options of revenue sources for counties," Smith said. "Commissioners have said we just don't think people can take any more in property tax and in a down economic time you don't want to do that.

"I think the association is trying to give counties options. But what I want people to keep in mind when options are given to counties or cities that it doesn't necessarily mean you are going to act on them."

Smith said commissioners do not favor anything that would involve a property tax, such as the real estate transfer tax. Rather they have favored a sales tax since it affects everyone.

While the two-day event will provide a forum for addressing statewide concerns, it will be up to commissioners once they return home to keep abreast of legislative bills and to lobby for issues of more local importance, Smith said.

Those local issues include ensuring the continued operation of Cherry Hospital and protecting the money that is to be used to build a new Cherry Hospital.

Sharing both local and state interest are relaxing rules governing the use of 911 revenues and protecting the average daily membership (ADM) and lottery funds for school projects.

The county wants to be able to use money from its 911 emergency system to help pay for a new $10 million communications system, while lottery funds would be used for school construction projects.

Smith and commissioners have expressed concerns that lottery and ADM funds could be attractive targets for a state government facing what could eventually amount to a $3 billion budget shortfall.

Gov. Beverly Perdue has been invited to address commissioners on today and Lenny Eliason, an Athens County, Ohio, commissioner is scheduled to speak. Eliason is a candidate for second vice president of the National Association of County Commissioners.

The first day of the conference includes two information sessions during which attendees have the opportunity to ask questions about any of the proposed goals.

Association membership will debate and vote on the goals. New proposals also may be submitted.

The local delegation is not expected to submit any new goals, but rather to stress the importance of the 911 revenues and school funding issues.

"What will happen the first day is that the staff of the association will begin to go over some of the policy statements," Smith said. "They generate their legislative decisions and what they are going to support and oppose based on their policies.

"The policy statements are really important. Then they will get into specifics with staff members who are basically lobbyists and each has an area of expertise. They will talk about proposals -- things that were on the table last year, things that have continued and then what they see coming this year."

When bills are introduced, for example the Medicaid relief bill, there are multiple versions, Smith said. Some may resemble each other, while others are "way out in left field somewhere," he said.

"You have got to be able to decipher through that," Smith said. "That is a part that we leave up to the staffers and general counsel with the association.

"But I say to my commissioners, the association does a good job, but it is our responsibility to read the things that affect us."

Smith said the county also pays attention to what the North Carolina League of Municipalities does since subjects that affect municipalities also can affect counties.