Local Politics

Transfer, Sales Tax Votes on Area Ballots

Posted October 30, 2007 5:33 p.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2007 6:18 p.m. EDT

— Voters in several area counties will face the question of approving new taxes in next week's election.

In the new state budget, state lawmakers approved giving counties the option of imposing a new tax to address growth-related needs, such as more classroom space, improved roads or new water and sewer lines.

Chatham, Hoke and Moore counties are among 11 North Carolina counties asking voters whether to impose a land transfer tax equal to 0.4 percent of the sale price whenever property changes hands. Meanwhile, Cumberland, Robeson and Sampson counties are among 11 counties holding a referendum on whether to adopt a 0.25-cent local sales tax.

Harnett and Johnston counties are among five counties offering voters a choice between the land-transfer and local sales tax. If both initiatives are approved, county officials could impose only one.

Chatham County resident Ed Weintraub said he thinks a land transfer tax unfairly targets homeowners.

"I think it's a bad idea. It gives the county a permanent lien on your property," Weintraub said. "Why not target people who wear blue suits and have 401(k)s at (Research Triangle Park)? It's not fair."

But county officials point to projections of 15,000 new homes over the next decade, requiring six to eight new schools at a cost of about $350 million. They said the only other option for dealing with growth would be to raise property taxes.

"We think this is a much fairer tax," Commissioner George Lucier said.

A land transfer tax would generate about $2.5 million a year in Chatham County, officials said.

"The land transfer tax wouldn't be a do-all, fix-all, but it will pay the debt service on one school," Commissioner Mike Cross said.

Realtors and home builders waged a fierce advertising and lobbying campaign against the transfer tax in the General Assembly, saying it would drive up home prices. Lower-key efforts have targeted counties putting the question on the ballot this fall.

"What is 0.4 percent of $100,000? It's $400. If $400 is going to stop you from buying a house, you don't need to buy a house," Commissioner Patrick Barnes said.

Chatham County officials said they expect a close vote next Tuesday, but if the transfer tax fails, they vowed to continue putting it on the ballot until it passes.

Although Durham County voters won't vote on a transfer or sales tax, they will have bond packages on the ballot. City leaders want $20 million to improve sidewalks, while countywide bond issues include $194 million school renovations and other proposals for museum and community college improvements.