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HC Board critical of ‘relief’

WINTON – A local legislator’s report claiming Medicaid relief was helpful to counties drew a fiery response here Monday morning.

During his legislative update, Hertford County Commissioner Dupont L. Davis took issue with a paragraph in the report from Raleigh by State House Representative Annie W. Mobley of Ahoskie.

“This paragraph in the report is like everything you read from Raleigh on Medicaid relief,” Davis said. “It sounds like they did something great for us.

“What they always leave out is that they took our sales tax, which hurt us,” he continued. “It’s like horse trading. They didn’t give us anything.”

Davis said he wanted to make citizens aware that the claims made by the legislature and other bureaucrats in Raleigh were not accurate because Hertford County and others had been hurt by the loss of sales tax.

Commissioner Johnnie R. Farmer agreed. He also pointed out the sales tax referendum that was on the November ballot in Hertford County had been defeated.

“We need it to pass,” Farmer stressed. “It’s still not enough, but it would help.”

Hertford County Manager Loria D. Williams said her problem was that all releases from Raleigh took an overview of what happened when the state agreed to absorb Medicaid costs in lieu of taking back sales tax.

“They take a broad brush look at it,” she said. “What’s different in Hertford County from Bertie and Northampton counties is Memorial Drive (in Ahoskie). It’s that plain and simple.”

Williams said the sales tax revenue lost by Hertford County meant they forfieted $1.85 million to get $2.4 million in relief. She said that was vastly different in places where sales tax generated less revenue.

“You can’t buy a suit or a pair of shoes in Bertie or Northampton County,” Davis said. “That’s the difference.”

Commissioner Curtis A. Freeman said he had discussed the sales tax referendum with a number of citizens who had not realized how important it was.

“If we decide to put it back on the ballot, we need to hold a series of meetings to explain it,” Freeman said. “Most of the people I talk to changed their outlook once it was explained to them.”

Williams said the ballot initiative was important, but said she also understood the mood of the voters who rejected it.

“In defense of the voters, this is a tough economic time,” Williams said. “I know they are saying they can’t afford more taxes and we have to do better with what we have.

“That is true,” she continued. “We also have to explain, however, that eventually the revenue will have to come from somewhere.”

She told commissioners the full amount of sales tax would not be lost in the 2008-2009 budget, but shortly after the board would start feeling the pinch from the lost sales tax revenue.

“We have time to educate people about why we need the sales tax,” she said. “We don’t lose it all next year, so there is time if you gentlemen decide to put it back on the ballot at a later time.”

The board agreed to continue their discussion of the matter in subsequent meetings.