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Joint effort

WINDSOR – Even though voters rejected it when it appeared on the May primary ballot, Bertie County officials are hoping for a second chance to pass the one-quarter cent sales tax increase for the county by placing the initiative on the November ballot.

And they think they have a viable inducement to get voters’ attention on its importance.

Bertie County Schools will now partner with the county in making a push for the initiative, because a portion of the monies collected will benefit teacher supplements in the county. The schools and county officials will be urging all educators – active and retired – to get behind the referendum.

First, that is, the county Board of Elections has to approve a request from the Bertie County Commissioners to place that decision in the hands of the voters once again in the fall. The August Board of Elections meeting scheduled for Aug. 8 was postponed until Friday, Aug. 17 at the W. Watson Street Election offices in Windsor.

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 due to the fact there isn’t a wealth of retail outlets in the county that collect state sales tax, a portion of which is returned to the county.

Some say 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 the revenue, the Bertie Commissioners want the county citizens to approve the measure, thus adding one quarter of one cent to the existing sales tax. If approved, those making purchases at retail businesses in the county will pay seven cents of state tax for each $1 of merchandise purchased. The current tax rate in Bertie for retail purchases is 6.75 cents.

County leaders can then use that added revenue to aid in the schools’ annual budget from the county.

Other counties have used the additional revenue to help meet their existing debt service payments, such as needed school improvements to aging infrastructure.

As for those who think Bertie County would be singled out, residents who shop out of Bertie in neighboring Hertford, Martin and Pitt counties are already paying that extra tax. So, in essence, Bertie citizens are adding revenue to the coffers of their neighbors. In Hertford County alone, that tiny increase in sales tax has reaped big rewards; namely, to the tune of nearly one million dollars in just four years.

Of the one dozen counties who had the referenda on the May ballot, it failed in five of those, including Bertie (Washington, Person, Lenoir, and Watauga were the others).

“We might as well say it,” said Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer at the Commissioners’ July 31 work session. “If it’s going to be (used for) the teacher pay supplement, then both the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners need to let the citizens know that’s what the funds will be dedicated for.”

Commissioner John Trent said the idea of the funds being made available for the schools would certain be a boost to their budget.

“I talked to Mr. (Board of Ed. Chairman Bobby) Occena about it, saying how the money would be going toward the schools using it for teacher supplements and things of that nature,” Trent said. “We’re in agreement with it here as a Board, but you need to get some advertising going on it so people will know what it’ll be used for.”

“There are only four counties in the entire state of North Carolina that do not offer teacher supplements and Bertie is one of them,” said Commission vice-chair Ron Wesson.

Commissioners chairman Ernestine Bazemore said she had spoken with Bertie Superintendent Dr. Catherine Edmonds and was told that her office would do whatever it could to get the word out there.

Bertie County Schools will discuss the strategy at the regular Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14 at the Central Office complex on US 13 South, across from Bertie High School.

Sauer reiterated that all the Bertie Commissioners still shared the same desire to see the school system partner with the county to properly advertise this referendum in order to offer the teacher supplements.