Board vows to rescind tax hike
By Jon Hawley
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Pasquotank County commissioners are not only pledging to use revenue from a potential sales tax increase for public education alone, they’re also vowing to rescind the tax hike within five years if it’s approved.
In a 5-0 vote, commissioners approved a resolution Monday night stating how they would spend a potential quarter-percent sales tax increase if one’s approved by voters on May 8, the day of the primary election.
This is the third time since 2012 that commissioners have asked voters to approve the quarter-percent sales tax increase, which they say is needed to support Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools. The referendums failed by a wide margin in both 2012 and 2016.
The resolution states the county would, if voters allow the sales tax increase, spend the extra revenue on “heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, athletic facilities, technology, class-size reduction mandates, school safety and debt service for any capital projects related to schools.”
ECPPS Superintendent Larry Cartner told commissioners last week that those are priorities but may be costly. Replacing a nearly 30-year-old HVAC system at Northside Elementary School will cost $2 million alone, he reported.
While strongly in support of the sales tax increase, Commissioner Jeff Dixon also acknowledged that “we’ve been blown out of the water badly” when the issue has been put to a vote. He argued commissioners need to offer voters a concession to earn their support.
That led him to propose that the quarter-percent tax increase sunset after five years. That means if approved, it would generate about $5 million — enough, he said, to cover the priorities stated in the resolution.
Commissioner Frankie Meads argued commissioners needed to go further. He said county residents feel they’re taxed too much, and believe the county’s property tax rate is high compared to some other counties. That can discourage businesses from coming to the county, he said.
Meads called for commissioners to also reduce property taxes by 1 cent, which would drop the rate from 77 to 76 cents per $100 in valuation. Notably, commissioners approved a 1-cent property tax rate increase last June to increase funding for ECPPS.
Other commissioners disagreed with Meads, however, arguing it was premature to cut property taxes before the county starts planning next year’s budget. Reducing the property tax rate by 1 cent would cost the county about $300,000. It also would mean the sales tax increase would only generate a net of $3.5 million more for ECPPS over five years.
Though commissioners didn’t support his idea, Meads still supported the resolution. If voters do allow sales taxes to go up, the resolution offers good priorities for the extra revenue, he said.
Board Chairman Cecil Perry said he plans to soon organize a committee to help promote the referendum.
One county resident expressed concerns to commissioners about the referendum Monday night. George Hague questioned what commissioners hope to achieve by calling for the referendum, given voters have strongly rejected the sales tax increase twice before.
Hague also called for commissioners to seek an outside review of school spending, similar to the review performed recently in Currituck County by Evergreen Solutions Inc. Such a study in Pasquotank could find savings and give the county more “credibility” in arguing schools need more taxpayer dollars, he said.
While the resolution commissioners approved includes a promise on how funds from the sales tax increase would be used, it is not a legally binding document. Current or future commissioners would be free to change their minds about how the money is spent, or how long the tax increase lasts.