Local Politics

Orange County Polls Voters on Transfer Tax

Posted February 27, 2008
Updated February 28, 2008

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— Six months after the idea of taxing people who  sell their homes was soundly defeated in several North Carolina counties, Orange County will put it to another test.

State lawmakers approved the land-transfer tax option last year to give counties a way to raise money to deal with growth-related spending, such as new schools, improved roads and expanded water and sewer systems. The tax would collect 0.4 percent of the sale price for homes and other real estate.

Sixteen counties put the proposal on the ballot in November, and voters in all of them overwhelmingly rejected it.

That hasn't stopped county officials statewide from wanting the tax, however. In Chatham County, for example, where it failed in the fall,  officials said they plan to keep putting a land-transfer tax before voters until it passes.

Orange County Commissioner Moses Carey said he and his colleagues opted for the transfer tax because it would impact fewer people than a half-cent local sales tax, which lawmakers also offered as an option for cash-strapped counties.

"Growth is occurring, and we need that revenue," Carey said.

Orange County officials spent $10,000 in taxpayer money on a poll to gauge public reaction to a transfer tax.

Chapel Hill Realtor Mark Zimmerman said he believes the transfer tax unfairly hits homeowners, and he also has doubts about a publicly funded poll on the issue.

"They may very well have crossed the line not only in doing a poll, but the way in which it was worded and conducted," Zimmerman said.

Carey disagreed, saying officials need information to make decisions.

"It wasn't a push poll. It was an objective poll to find out what our residents were thinking, and it provided us with some valuable information that will help us decide what areas we need to focus on," he said.

Whether the poll predicts an outcome of the vote is unclear.

One poll question found 50 percent of Orange voters would lean toward a higher sales tax as an option, and 32 percent said they wouldn’t.

In answering another question, 33 percent said they’d lean toward a land transfer tax and 53 percent said they wouldn’t.

In a comparison question, 47 percent said "sales," 42 percent said "land transfer," and 8 percent said no real preference.

David Lawrence, a professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina School of Government, said he sees no problem using public money for polling as long as a poll is conducted before leaders decide to put a measure on the ballot.

Homeowner Ralph Mason said he is frustrated by the polling.

"To take my tax dollars and hire a consultant to convince me to vote the way county commissioners want to vote, that's not what we should be doing in Orange County," said Mason, who is trying to sell his Chapel Hill home.

"I really feel I've been paying my fair share for quite a while," he said. "I'm happy to pay my fair share, but I don't want to pay everyone else's too."


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  • jsanders Feb 28, 2008

    "Growth is occurring, and we need that revenue." An exercise in excuse-fishing. Growth is a good thing for a community, including tax revenues: http://www.johnlocke.org/articles/display_story.html?id=3224

  • TheAdmiral Feb 28, 2008

    "Add a sales tax. The more people spend, the more they'll pay in tax...."

    That is just it - they don't want that kind of commerce. When I lived in Hillsborough, the Town and County commissioners did not want development to allow that to be an option.

    Good riddance - you OC folks get what you deserve.

  • Pack1966 Feb 28, 2008

    Let's hope Orange Co. seeks an education on the topic from sources other than realtors. Johnston Co. really goofed when they had a golden opportunity. Now they ALL get to pay higher property taxes, rather than a few people (home sellers) paying some additional taxes.

  • Chapel Hill Conservative Feb 28, 2008

    Using the same logic, why not force anyone living in Orange County who's having a child pay an extra tax (at the time of birth) to fund future educational development? Those crumb crunchers will at some point need new books, teachers and schools. That extra money could go a long way if invested properly... wait, I almost forgot we're talking about government.

    If home buyers and sellers are going to fund this new infrastructure (improved roads, water/sewer systems, etc.), then they should be the only ones allowed to take advantage of it. Maybe there could be a "transfer tax lane" (or TT lane for short... similar to an HOV lane on some freeways) on 15/501 for those who pay this tax so they can bypass all the heavy traffic.

    This may all sound stupid, but so is the transfer tax.

  • Leonardo Feb 28, 2008

    charlesboyer: "Voters soundly reject a new tax and the government simply puts it in place anyway?
    Or a better question: what the has happened to our democracy? Do these people NOT LISTEN TO THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE?"

    Voters in Orange county did NOT reject this tax yet...other communities in North Carolina did. That's what this whole vote is about...to see if the residents of Orange county want the tax.

    Unless you're a resident of Orange county, you have no reason to criticize what they do or do not do. It's up to the residents of Orange county to decide whether or not they want a transfer tax, not you. Your definition of democracy appears to be that Orange county should listen to the will of people outside Orange county, not to the will of the residents of Orange county. That's a pretty messed up definition.

  • penny for your thoughts Feb 28, 2008

    I agree with the quote in the article - I don't mind paying my share, but not everyone else's too. Why should I pay more than my fair share because I own a house and the next person doesn't. Add a sales tax. The more people spend, the more they'll pay in tax - and at least everyone will pay towards it. OR...smarten up politicians and cut back on new development and save water at the same time!

  • TheAdmiral Feb 28, 2008

    Ahhhh - sounds like the Soviet Socialist Republic of Orange County coming up with another plan to tax the $&^@ out of their citizens. Did you ever get the feeling that if they had - oh you know like a industrial plant and a few others like it there that they would get more revenue?

    Ahhh - I digress - the last time I was in the courthouse and saw the asbestos and the walls cracking and falling on the floor I see why they need to tax the $&^* out of their citizens.

    If your not down there at the County and Town meetings, you don't hear the lunacy that they talk about.

    I am glad I moved out of the County - my $97 a month water bill is now $16.50 a month.

  • Me again Feb 28, 2008

    givemeabreak: What you said already exists. They are called IMPACT FEES.

  • whatelseisnew Feb 28, 2008

    No Democrats never listen to the will of the people.

  • givemeabreak Feb 28, 2008

    I think there should be a tax on NEW HOMES ONLY! The existing homes should not have this tax. New CONSTRUCTION should pay for the new infrastructure and all. Existing homes have already. Building chapel hill north should be paid for by UNC not by taxing the exising homes in the area. This is an example.