What were you thinking?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Which would you rather have, user fees for one specific purpose or something that is forced on residents whether they want it or not?

The answer, I’d think, would be the former.

However, that’s apparently not so in Gates County and in other counties in North Carolina where the proposed land transfer tax has failed.

In Gates County last week, the new tax was shot down with an overwhelming majority against it; the vote was 2,015 voting nay and 843 saying yes.

Yet all these people have done is create the need for Gates County Commissioners to raise property taxes – something that will affect all homeowners, not just those who are going to buy or sell property in the future.

Last year, the North Carolina General Assembly voted to allow counties to put the land transfer tax or a local sales tax on the ballot in order to make up for funds lost in the agreement to relieve the counties’ share of the Medicaid burden.

In exchange for the state taking over Medicaid costs, it stopped giving certain other funds to counties.

To partially make up for that, they’re now allowing counties the chance to put in place one of the two other taxes… provided voters agree.

The problem with the land transfer tax is that the North Carolina Association of Realtors has been campaigning against it… and people have apparently listened to their propaganda.

But what’s best for the general public, the everyday man or woman?

Personally, as a homeowner myself I’d much rather somebody who is buying or selling property to pay a one-time &uot;user fee&uot; tax on doing so than all property owners having to pay an increased tax each year on what they already own.

The latter option, incidentally, is something that voters won’t get the chance to really weigh in on – it’s put into the county budget each year and voted on by the county commissioners.

Incidentally, county commissioners aren’t seeking these extra funds as a benefit to themselves.

They’re simply attempting to maintain the revenues on a level such that county operations – including that of the public school system – can continue as normal.

Of course the North Carolina Association of Realtors is against it; they’re realtors… they’re afraid a tax on the purchase of property will hurt their business.

They claim that they believe a land transfer tax will negatively impact the economic growth of a county by making the housing market tougher, yet none of the six counties in the state who have had a one percent land transfer tax since the 1980’s have experienced such a thing.

If those six counties haven’t experienced a growth slowdown with a one percent land transfer tax rate, it’s highly unlikely that the proposed 0.4 percent rate in Gates would do that to it or any other county.

Furthermore, while the average property tax rate statewide has risen in the years since those six counties implemented the land transfer tax, the property tax rate in those counties has generally gone down, saving homeowners money.

I don’t understand why, if people have all this information made available to them, they would vote against the land transfer tax.

Certainly the average citizen doesn’t buy or sell property on a regular basis, right?

I really think that most people just see the word &uot;tax&uot; on a ballot and vote against it no matter what it is.

The ironic thing is that homeowners who did this actually only hurt themselves this go-round.

What makes the situation even worse is that counties have no effective way of educating the public on what the land transfer tax REALLY is, because they are prohibited from spending county funds on an education campaign for referendums.

I have no idea whether or not the Gates County Commissioners will choose to raise property taxes this or even next year to make up for the funds they can now not get from a land transfer tax… but I can say with certainty that the chances of that happening are now higher than they would have been if the land transfer tax had passed.

So, congratulations, citizens of Gates County and those in other counties who voted against this new tax – you got what you wanted… an increased likelihood that you’ll have to pay more taxes on property you already own, as opposed to penalizing those who choose to buy or sell for profit.

Jennipher Dickens is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

She can be reached via email at: jennipher.dickens@r-cnews.com or by calling (252) 332-7208.