HC voters will decide tax hike

Published 9:08 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

WINTON – Hertford County will try again.

Defeated in its first two attempts, registered voters in the county will decide the fate of levying an additional quarter-cent sales tax in the county during a referendum scheduled for Tuesday, March 2.

Traditional polling places throughout the county will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Those wishing to vote early may do so via the “One-Stop” technique by visiting the Hertford County Board of Elections office in Winton during regular hours (M-F; 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturday, 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.).

Hertford County officials say the extra one-fourth of one penny is critical as they plan for the future. The Hertford County Board of Commissioners, discussing the proposed sales tax increase during several recent meetings, say the additional funds will be earmarked for capital improvement projects.

“The county’s aging infrastructure – i.e., water, schools, county buildings and major mechanical systems – is in need of repair and/or replacement,” stated a resolution approved by the commissioners in support of the quarter-cent sales tax increase. Town government officials in Ahoskie and Murfreesboro have voted unanimously to support that resolution.

Pending capital improvement projects include:

Mechanical systems upgrade at Roanoke-Chowan Community College ($100,000);

E911 system upgrade due to obsolete equipment ($400,000);

Courthouse renovation/construction ($7.5 million); and

Jail roof repair/replacement ($250,000).

These projects come at a time where the county’s coffers have been hit hard by state cutbacks as well as a downturn in the economy; the latter leading to a reduction in the “point of sale” tax that is returned to the county from the state.

Hertford County’s annual share of loss revenue due to cutbacks in the state’s budget include:

Assumption of full cost of Child Support Enforcement ($183,000);

Diversion of Corporate Income taxes from ADM Fund – School funding ($150,000);

Loss of Beer & Wine Tax ($65,000);

Loss of rental income for certain Probation & Parole Officers ($12,000);

Loss of reimbursement for certain inmates at the Hertford County Jail; and

Hold harmless to cities for loss of ½ cent sales tax as part of the state-county Medicaid funding swap ($252,000).

Hertford County Manager Loria Williams said the “hold harmless” funds once stood at $8,000-to-$9,000 per month. Following the Medicaid swap, the funding the county is required to pay the towns in the county that collect sales tax jumped to $21,000 per month.

In the meantime, the county must rely heavily on its residential property tax base to fund such “high ticket” items as Public Safety ($5.2 million), Health and Human Services ($7.2 million) and Education ($6.1 million). That education funding, which includes Roanoke-Chowan Community College, ranks as the second highest in the region.

With the county experiencing minimal growth in the residential tax base, one that supplies 50 percent of its general fund revenues, county officials say they think it’s only fair to levy a one-fourth cent sales tax, one that everyone pays, including visitors to the county who make purchases at local stores, and thus lessens the need for a property tax increase.

To prove the impact of a ¼ penny sales tax increase, it is projected that tax will generate $350,000 in additional funds every year. Meanwhile, one penny in additional property tax will net only $120,000 annually.

It should be noted that this proposal is only one-fourth of one cent on each dollar spent. That means for every $4 a consumer spends at a Hertford County business, the amount of additional sales tax is one penny.

The current sales tax rate in Hertford County, as is in the majority of counties across the state, is 7.75 cents per one dollar of purchase. In return, the county currently receives 2 cents (per dollar spent) from the state. That amount is based upon point-of-origin sales and per capita.

If approved next week by the voters, the sales tax rate in Hertford County would increase from 7.75 cents to 8 cents (per dollar of purchase). That would increase the state’s return to the county to 2.25 cents (per dollar).