Local Politics

Bell Wins; Transfer Tax Loses

Posted November 6, 2007 9:38 p.m. EST
Updated November 7, 2007 12:32 p.m. EST

— Durham Mayor Bill Bell held off a brutal challenge from City Councilman Thomas Stith to win an unprecedented fourth term Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, voters soundly rejected tax issues placed on the ballot in several area counties to raise money for growth-related needs.

Stith hammered at Durham's image as a crime-ridden city, calling Bell soft on crime and saying Durham needed to move in a new direction. Bell fired back at Stith, saying the councilman used scare tactics over crime for political gain.

The often-heated campaign generated a healthy voter turnout. Nearly 40,000 people in Durham cast ballots, and the 25 percent voter turnout doubled the results of the last mayoral election in the city.

Bell wound up with 58 percent of the vote to Stith's 42 percent, according to unofficial totals.

"I hope it sends a message to future candidates that choose to campaign in Durham and use that type of (negative) tactic. It's not going to work in Durham," Bell said.

Across the county line, Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy coasted to an easy victory over challenger Kevin Wolff, capturing 72 percent of the vote, according to unofficial totals.

Meanwhile, voters didn't appreciate the state legislators giving them the opportunity to tax themselves to pay for growth-related needs.

Lawmakers approved allowing counties to ask for either a land transfer tax equal to 0.4 percent of the sale price whenever property changes hands or a 0.25-cent local sales tax, with the proceeds paying for infrastructure like more classroom space, improved roads or new water and sewer lines.

In the closest votes, Cumberland County and Robeson County defeated a local sales tax by 52-48 and 58-42 percent margins, respectively, according to unofficial totals.

Meanwhile, the transfer tax was defeated 93-7 percent in Harnett County, 85-15 percent in Hoke County, 84-16 percent in Johnston County, 77-23 percent in Moore County and 70-30 percent in Chatham County, according to unofficial results.

"I think this sends a very strong message that the public feels this isn't a fair means of taxation," said Tim Kent, executive vice president of the North Carolina Association of Realtors, which unsuccessfully lobbied against the transfer tax in the General Assembly.

Johnston and Harnett voters also defeated sales tax proposals by four-to-one margins.

Sampson County was the only area county to approve a tax Tuesday, with more than 77 percent of voters passing a local sales tax.