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Vote 'For': Our kids, grandkids are counting on it

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By Douglas Gardner
Columnist

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Simona White hopes that summer doesn't come early to Pasquotank County this year. If it does, the hot weather will tax the aging air conditioning and heating system at Northside Elementary School where she’s principal.

The Northside HVAC system is just one of myriad capital projects needed to keep the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools’ 13 campuses (average age 41 years) operating, according to ECPPS Superintendent Dr. Larry Cartner.

On May 8, Pasquotank voters will have a chance to approve a one-quarter of one percent (0.25%) sales tax increase that will raise an estimated $1.175 million in funding for our schools.

Eleven other counties from Bertie to Watauga will perform a similar poll of residents the same day.

You should vote for it.

Local governments at the county and city level are charged with building, renovating and maintaining public education infrastructure.

It's a tall order that keeps Maintenance Director Frankie Floyd and his staff hopping. Our system sprawls across more than 1 million square feet of classrooms, offices and storage facilities. The county appropriated $2.1 million for capital projects, about $2 per square foot. The cost of new construction averages more than $100 per foot.

“Maintenance is out here quite a lot,” White, the Northside principal, says politely. “There’s lot of inconsistency” with heating and cooling. Staff bought lots of sweaters last winter, she said. “You dress in layers.”

Bear in mind that this is one of the newer facilities in our county.

Additional sales tax revenue could go a long way to remedying these problems. If passed on May 8, the new sales tax rate would be in effect as of Oct. 1. It will be an even 7 percent, except for unprepared food (groceries) and motor fuel. You won’t see an increase at the grocery store or the fuel pump. The sales tax on motor vehicles is capped at 3 percent already.

School board Chairwoman Sharon Warden points out that on inexpensive items under $2.50 the effective tax rate already is 7 percent, due to rounding.

Unlike the property tax, which is assessed once a year, the sales tax will be collected 365 days a year as you go about your daily business. Visitors to our area and residents of adjoining counties will pick up some of the burden when they patronize our retail venues.

Two things have deterred voters in Pasquotank from approving this levy twice: the NC Education Lottery and the curious wording of the ballot measure itself.

A significant portion of the proceeds of the 2005 lottery have been diverted by the General Assembly to other uses, fostering mistrust across the state. While state law forbids counties from binding future commissioners, the incumbent board has passed a resolution committing the sales tax increase to education. And, it goes away in five years. Elizabeth City City Council, the board of directors of the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce, and the board of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc., have already approved resolutions of support.

Ballot language is a product of lawmakers, too. Here’s what to look for May 8: “For or Against. Local sales and use tax at the rate of 1-quarter% (0.25%) in addition to all other State and local sales and use taxes.”

Clear as mud, right? This is not about a quarter increase in sales tax. Take that picture of a quarter out of your head. This referendum asks for one-fourth of one penny. Visualize that penny, cut into four pieces of pie. This referendum asks for only one piece — one fourth of one penny for education.

Vote, ”For.”

Remember, this money will not disappear in Raleigh or Washington, D.C. It will stay right here in Pasquotank County. You can see your school board members and county commissioners around your neighborhood, at the grocery store and church or on Main Street.

Make sure they hear you. Our children and grandchildren are counting on you.

Doug Gardner is legislative vice president of the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce and a past chairman of the Education Foundation.

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