Small price pays for big rewards

Published 8:21 am Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In 2007, legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly gave to counties a local-option, quarter-cent sales tax. The sales tax (G.S. 105-535) must be approved by voters in a referendum before it can be adopted by a county.

For the period Nov. 7, 2007, through May 8, 2014, referendums on the quarter-cent sales tax were held in 59 counties. Of those 27 were approved.

Several such referendums will be on the ballot come November. One may be in Bertie, that is if the county’s Board of Elections, at their regularly scheduled meeting today (Tuesday), approves a request from the Bertie Commissioners to place that decision in the hands of the voters.

Rural counties such as Bertie are forced to raise the lion’s share of their annual operating revenue on the backs of those paying property taxes. That’s due to the simple reason there isn’t a wealth of retail outlets in the county….businesses that collect state sales tax, a portion of which is returned to the county.

If you don’t pay property tax, then doling out money for sales tax is the only way citizens can contribute to the services offered by the county. It’s the fairest tax of all, assessed equally among those making purchases, no matter how big or small. Relying on property owners to pay both sales tax and property tax is unfair.

To help boost their meager revenue, the Bertie Commissioners want the county citizens, at least those registered to cast a ballot, to approve a measure that adds one quarter of one cent to the existing sales tax. If approved, those making purchases at retail businesses in the county will pay eight cents of state tax for each $1 of merchandise purchased. To prove how miniscule this proposed tax hike is, for every $4 a consumer spends at a Bertie County business, the amount of additional sales tax is one penny.

The current tax rate in Bertie for retail purchases is 7.75 cents.

County leaders can use that added revenue to help meet their existing debt service payments, such as the new high school, or to make needed improvements to aging infrastructure.

While no one wants to vote to increase their taxes, it’s a safe bet that the majority of Bertie citizens are already paying the extra quarter-cent sales tax. Those whose shopping habits take them out of Bertie to the “big box” stores in neighboring Hertford, Martin and Pitt counties, you are paying that extra tax. Pitt and Martin voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax hike in 2007; Hertford in 2010.

In reality, Bertie citizens are adding revenue to the coffers of those aforementioned neighbors. In Hertford County alone, that tiny increase in sales tax has reaped big rewards….to the tune of nearly one million dollars in just four short years.

What improvements can Bertie make with an extra million in their pockets? We would encourage citizens there to vote yes to the referendum on Nov. 6 and discover the answer to that question.

– The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald