Local Politics

Counties turning to local sales taxes to raise money

Posted July 26, 2010 6:12 p.m. EDT

— A growing number of counties facing tight budgets are seeking voter approval to raise local sales taxes.

Ten counties have already decided to put local-option sales taxes on the November ballot, including Orange, Harnett and Robeson. Durham County commissioners were expected to vote Monday night on whether to add their county to the list.

Durham County officials said the county could raise nearly $8 million a year with a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax.

"I think the counties have gone through this budget theme for a couple of years now, and the citizens are starting to see the impacts hitting them personally," said Todd McGee, spokesman for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. "They're seeing their libraries being closed earlier. They're seeing parks being closed. They're seeing other services being cut, and the citizens are starting to feel it."

In 2007, state lawmakers gave cash-strapped counties the option of asking voters if they would agree to a land-transfer tax or a higher sales tax to help deal with growth issues like building new schools and roads and extending water and sewer lines.

The land-transfer tax has been defeated every time it's been put on the ballot, and the quarter-cent sales tax idea has failed 44 times, including twice in Harnett County and once each in Cumberland and Robeson counties.

Still, voters have approved a local-option sales tax 16 times, including eight of 10 referenda since last November. Cumberland County voters even changed their minds and approved a sales tax increase in a second vote. Lee and Duplin counties also have approved the added sales tax.