County moves ahead with sales tax referendum in Nov.; costing $84,500

Staff writerApril 6, 2011 

The Orange County Board of Commissioners have decided to put another one-quarter-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot for muncipal elections in November.

This is the second time commissioners put the sales tax referendum on the ballot. It failed last November by margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.

Commissioners voted 5-2, with Commissioners Earl McKee and Valerie Fousheee against the resolution to put the referendum on the Nov. 8 municipal election ballot.

McKee said putting the referendum on the municipal ballot creates a perception that the county is trying to get around the rural vote, which predominantly opposed the tax the last time around.

"That perception, true or false, does exist," he said. "There is a perception that we're incurring additional costs when it's technically not necessary...I think the passage or failure of this quarter-cent sales tax will be heavily dependent on the perception of citizens."

Foushee agreed, but said the board does not intend to exclude voters; it just needs the tax revenue.

"It was not the intent of this board ... [that] some of our voters would be disenfranchised," she said.

Putting the referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot will cost the county an additional $84,500, because it will have to open and staff rural polling sites.

If it's passed, the tax would increase the county's sales tax rate from 7.75 percent to 8 percent or 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

About 12 people spoke at Tuesday's meeting; all were against the tax. Many residents said that placing the referendum on the ballot for muncipal elections versus the general election the following year is an attempt to circumvent the rural vote, since many may not turn out to vote on only one issue.

"The people have already spoken clearly on this issue on this issue and have expressed their desire for no new tax," said Bob Randall, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party.

In the last referendum, the tax got the majority of its support from the Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough areas of the couny, and was opposed in the rural communities.

"Putting this on the muncipal elections is a bad idea ... the reality is [that] this did very well in municipal areas," said Will Raymond, a Chapel Hill resident. "You're vote shopping."

The board said moving forward with economic development, which would be funded by the tax revenue, it too important to wait. The county estimates the sales tax would bring in $2.5 million annually beginning April 1, 2012, if it's passed.

"Each day and each month we delay, we delay the opportunity to use the money thatwe'd get from ths tax," said Commissioner Steve Yuhasz. "I strongly feel that the sooner we get on with it, the better off Orange County is going to be."

For the last referendum, the county spent $40,000 on a media campaign to inform voters about the tax and where its revenue would go.

Commissioners and County Manager Frank Clifton said for this year's tax, there needs to be a more specific outline of how tax monies would be spent, and an education campaign that is more objective.

The state gave counties the authority to levy the tax, if it passes a referendum, in 2007. So far the quarter-cent on the dollar tax has had 77 referendums throughout the state; 18 have passed.

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