Orange County approves transit sales tax, fees

tgrubb@newsobserver.comDecember 11, 2012 

— The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 Tuesday to start collecting a half-cent sales tax April 1 to pay specifically for expanded bus service and a future light-rail system.

Voters approved the special sales tax – 5 cents on a $10 purchase – in a November referendum.

Commission Chairman Earl McKee voted against levying the tax.

McKee said he opposes the plan’s focus on a light-rail system that would serve a small part of Orange County and only one of Durham’s two universities. He argued for building up the county and city bus systems now and planning for light rail when the future population and tax base is adequate to support the system.

The commissioners also voted 4-2, with McKee and Commissioner Renee Price dissenting, to add $7 to the local vehicle registration fee to support local transportation and another $3 regional registration fee for Triangle Transit services. Triangle Transit already charges a $5 regional fee.

The registration fee increases could go into effect in July or August, Triangle Transit general counsel Wib Gulley said.

The commissioners will ask the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles to send the vehicle fee revenues directly Triangle Transit, which will keep the regional fee revenues and distribute the rest. Roughly 90 percent of the remainder could go to Chapel Hill Transit, and the rest to Orange Public Transportation.

The money would supplement the county’s share of a $1.4 billion joint Orange-Durham plan for more local and regional bus services, an Amtrak station in Hillsborough and a 17.3-mile light-rail line from UNC Hospitals to Durham, among other projects. The counties expect to use state and federal money to pay most of the plan’s costs.

Orange County, Chapel Hill and Triangle Transit would share the sales tax money based on each system’s ridership – 12 percent, 64 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Gulley said his agency already is meeting with Chapel Hill town and transit leaders to plan new services. The changes could be in place by January 2014, with additional improvements after that, he said.

Durham County will begin a half-cent sales tax for transit improvements on April 1. Wake commissioners decided against offering a sales-tax referendum to voters in that county.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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