Wording causes confusion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WINTON – Sometimes all it takes is one concerned citizen to get the ball rolling.

The Hertford County Commissioners saw evidence of that here Monday night during one of the public comment portions of their regularly scheduled meeting.

Earl Johnson, a citizen of Hertford County, asked the commissioners for clarification on a measure that was defeated at the polls in May.

&uot;I don’t understand what is this user’s fee thing that was on the ballot along with the sales tax… that’s what is throwing people off of voting for the sales tax,&uot; he stated.

County Attorney Charles Revelle responded, &uot;We don’t have any control over the wording on the ballots; the (North Carolina) General Assembly sets that.&uot;

What Johnson refers to is the countywide &uot;sales and use&uot; quarter-cent tax increase that was put on the ballot in May.

If passed, it would have generated an estimated $525,000 annually – money that is much-needed after the state cut off certain funds to the county as part of the agreement for the state to take over the Medicaid burden.

However, the measure was overwhelmingly defeated in Hertford County during the last two elections; this May’s results even worse than last November, with only 1,538 voting yes but 3,737 against.

&uot;We need to do a better job of educating the public on what the tax really means,&uot; Revelle noted.

Commissioner Curtis Freeman remarked, &uot;I’ve never thought about it like that before, but I can see where somebody might misunderstand.&uot;

Johnson added, &uot;I think the average citizen thinks that the ‘user’s fee’ is a land transfer tax and that’s why they voted against it… I think the sales tax would pass without that other word.&uot;

County Manager Loria Williams reiterated, &uot;No, the ‘sales and use tax’ is just terminology.

It has nothing to do with a land transfer tax.&uot;

After further discussion, the commissioners agreed that additional public education is in order.

&uot;We need to start educating people now, because this is going to be on the ballot again in November,&uot; stated Commission Chairman Howard Hunter III.

Commissioner DuPont Davis noted, &uot;I think what we really need to do is put this in a simple language so everybody can understand it.&uot;

Revelle stated that he could work on putting out a fact sheet that was simpler from those in the past.

All &uot;sales and use tax&uot; means is an additional point-of-sale tax when goods are sold at retail outlets or certain services are provided.

Currently, sales and use tax stands at 6.75 percent in Hertford County, 4.25 percent of which goes to the state.

The remaining 2.5 percent is a local tax, but 0.5 percent of that will be taken away by the state as well in the next two fiscal years.

&uot;That’s why we’re trying to put this in place, to make up for some of the money that will be taken away,&uot; Williams explained later in a phone interview.

If the additional quarter-cent sales and use tax increase were to pass, it would raise the total rate to 7 percent countywide.

To put it into perspective, the extra cost to consumers would only be one penny more on a $4 purchase.