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Commissioners revisit sales tax issue

WINTON – Hertford County needs its citizens to support an increase in sales tax.

That was the clear message of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners Monday morning during their regular session.

During his update from Raleigh, Commission Dupont A. Davis reported that Alexander County held a special election for the one-quarter cent sales tax and the measure passed.

Hertford County had the one-quarter cent increase on the November ballot and it failed to pass in a close vote.

Counties have the option of placing the measure on the ballot as part of a trade-off from the North Carolina General Assembly. The General Assembly took responsibility for Medicaid costs in the state, but also took several sources of revenue from counties to offset the cost. In return, they allowed a one-quarter cent local sales tax option, but decreed that it must be passed by voters in the county.

“I think we have to do our homework and let voters know the importance of it,” Davis said.

Commissioner Curtis A. Freeman said he would continue to maintain education of the public was key.

“All they saw in November was taxes going up,” he said. “They didn’t see if we don’t get it, we might have to go up on property taxes.”

Commissioner Johnnie R. Farmer said he felt people in Hertford County should know that the sales tax option was passed in Pitt County.

“They’re going to drive to Greenville and pay it anyway,” he said.

Farmer then asked County Manager Loria D. Williams if the there had been any further information about what role the board could play in the initiative.

“What Mr. Farmer is talking about is that we cannot lead, guide or sell the referendum as a board,” Williams said. “We have to give facts. We can educate the public and make sure the best information is out there.”

Farmer answered, “My understanding is we can’t campaign and say vote for this, but we can give information.”

Williams said that was true.

The manager also told the board she would have to come back to them at some point to formally decide whether or not to put the referendum on the ballot and when.

“I think we should shoot for May,” Freeman said with Commissioner John E. Pierce adding he felt the board should “definitely” put the referendum on primary ballot.

Williams said she would proceed with the paperwork to bring back to the board for formal adoption.

“What it comes down to is people have to see that everyone pays in sales tax or some will pay on property taxes,” Freeman said.

“I think we should move forward with it,” Commission Chairman Howard J. Hunter III said.