Commissioners reword taxing authority plan
By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 16, 2009 1:46 PM
RALEIGH -- A legislative goal that appeared aimed at giving county commissioners the power to sidestep the public when it comes to implementing certain taxes was amended before it even reached the floor for a vote Thursday afternoon.
Staff members of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners said Thursday at the annual conference that what they meant to say and what had been put to paper weren't the same.
But before the amended goal was put to a vote, Duplin County Commissioner David Fussell offered a more stringent version. He was able to garner a second, but his motion was voted down.
Wayne County Commission Chairman Bud Gray supported the final version of the goal, while Fussell, who was acting on behalf of Duplin Commission Chairman Cary Turner who was unable to attend the conference, voted against it.
A similar goal was rejected by the General Assembly during its last session.
The vote came during the first day of the association's annual legislative goals conference at the Raleigh Sheraton. Some 90 of the state's 100 counties had registered delegates who could vote on the goals. Close to 300 people were in attendance for the session that continues today.
The revenue goal was one of a multitude considered during the daylong session touching on justice and public safety, taxation and finance, environment, human services and intergovernmental relations.
The delegates reconvened this morning to consider goals in agriculture and public education.
As originally proposed, the association's priority goal would seek legislation "to allow all counties to enact by resolution any and all revenue options from among those that have been authorized for any other county, including local option sales taxes, prepared food taxes, impact taxes and real estate transfer taxes; and to preserve the existing local revenue base."
What it should have read, staff members said, was "to allow all counties to enact by resolution or, at the option of the board of commissioners, by voter referendum...."
"We are not prepared to give up on the referendum," said Association Executive Director David Thompson. "If the option is there we are going to need their (public's) support. No board would be silly enough to put it on the ballot or by resolution without knowing it has support."
Even that was too strong for Fussell, who is known for his opposition to taxes.
"We recently held a sales tax referendum and that will come back up again," Fussell said in offering up his amendment. "I could vote for this thing if it says by referendum but not by resolution.
"A resolution is overriding the will of the people and it should not. It is not democratic. It is an arbitrary thing that could override the people."
His comments drew mummers of agreement from the crowd.
Fussell then offered an amendment to delete " by resolution" from the goal. It was handily defeated.
A second amendment changed "impact taxes" to "impact fees."
A Wake County delegate said that impact fee "gets a different reaction" than impact tax.
That motion was approved but another to have "real estates tax" also changed to fee did not.
Thompson said the change made sense for the impact fees since the amount of the fee depends on the cost of what the fee is for while a real estate tax does not.
"It is better than it was, but it is still not good because most boards will do it by resolution," Fussell said in an interview.
Gray said that his board supported the goal, particularly the sales tax option. He said the board was not interested, though, in anything that would be a property tax, such as the real estate transfer tax.
He added that his board has always supported using a referendum rather than resolution.
Both Wayne and Duplin commissioners saw sales tax referendums soundly defeated in 2008.
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