Da Bums winsales tax defeated By Cal Bryant 05/13/2008 To say the least, the voting public is a unique collection of individuals. One never knows how a person will react, how they will think, when it#

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 13, 2008

To say the least, the voting public is a unique collection of individuals.

One never knows how a person will react, how they will think, when it’s just them and a ballot protected from view within that little cardboard cubicle known as a polling booth.

Do they have all the facts? Have they researched the issues? What do they really know, or understand for that matter, about each of the candidates or referendums? If it is a candidate, are they casting their ballots based on skin color or gender, without regard to what type of platform that particular candidate supports? Are they voting with their own clear conscience, or are they relying on outside forces to guide their decisions?

There are no clear answers to any of the aforementioned questions. All we, as American citizens, can hope for is that the voters completely understand the power they have when it comes to marking an election ballot.

Having the right to vote also gives a person an opportunity to question the logic behind the outcome of a particular election. I will exercise that opportunity here and now.

I found it extremely odd that the Hertford County voters who went to the polls exactly one week ago opted to raise their property taxes. And they did so by a rather overwhelming majority.

In a special referendum, 3,707 Hertford County voters opted against a measure calling for a 0.25 percent hike in the local sales and use tax. The “yes” votes totaled 1,533, among which I was one.

But yet the people have spoken. They shot down what amounted to 2.5 cents of additional tax on a $10 purchase. If a purchase totaled $100, the extra tax would have been a grand total of 25 cents, or one-half of what it takes to make one call from a pay phone.

However, what the voters can’t control is their property taxes. The decision behind the rise or fall (mostly rise) of those rates is in the hands of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners. They instruct the County Manager, based upon her preview of each year’s county budget, to set the tax collection rate.

As a Hertford County taxpayer, I feel our commissioners have performed a fair job of holding the line on property taxes and spending that money wisely for the services to meet the needs of the citizens. In light of skyrocketing costs, especially insurance and fuel, the commissioners have been frugal in their spending.

The effort behind the proposed 0.25 percent sales tax hike was one to offset the loss of other sales and use taxes that the state of North Carolina decided to keep after deciding, at long last, to take on 100 percent of the Medicaid costs. Prior to that decision, each county in the state shared in footing the Medicaid bill. In Hertford County, with its high percentage of Medicaid eligible citizens, their share was above $2.5 million annually.

Now, if the state had taken on that burden 100 percent and not tinkered with the different sales taxes earned by the counties, Hertford County voters wouldn’t have seen that referendum on last week’s ballot. But the state decided to ease the burden on itself by keeping a butt load of sales tax revenues that normally went back to the point of sale (the county). In Hertford County’s case, instead of having an extra $2.5-plus million to use to improve services, they came out less than $500,000 to the good. The proposed 0.25 percent increase in local sales tax would have netted the county an estimated $200,000 annually.

Now the commissioners will have no other choice than to raise property taxes. They might not do it this year, but look out come 2009-10.

Someone once told me that about 35 percent of the citizens living in Hertford County pay property taxes. The remainder is either exempt, don’t own property or are simply no-good bums who opt not to pay what’s due on their bills.

So the majority wins in this case….those who don’t pay property taxes want to make sure they keep what money they have; thusly they would be against a hike in sales tax, something that affects us all.

And the moral of the story is…those who don’t pay their own way want to ensure those that do continue to do so.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached via email at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com.