Local Politics

Durham County won't put added sales tax on ballot

Posted July 30, 2010 11:39 a.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2010 6:56 p.m. EDT

— The Durham County Board of Commissioners decided Thursday against having local voters decide in November whether they want to add a quarter-cent to the local sales tax rate.

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 of 60 times.

Ten counties have already decided to put local-option sales taxes on the November ballot, including Orange, Harnett and Robeson, but after much discussion this week, Durham commissioners decided not to pursue the tax, which officials said could raise nearly $8 million a year for schools.

"The timing was really not good for us right at this point," said Michael Page, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

Durham Public Schools were faced with having to lay off hundreds of teachers this spring until the General Assembly allowed lottery money to go to teacher salaries and the Board of Commissioners raised property taxes.

"Trying to stay away from raising property taxes is our main goal," Page said.

School district officials said they support the commissioners' decision and plan to continue to work with the board to find ways to fund the schools.

The commissioners are also exploring the idea of raising the tax on alcohol and cigarettes, and Page said they could look at putting the sales tax increase before voters next March.

Even then, voter approval could be tricky.

"I don't think that would be a good idea to raise sales tax. It's for a good cause, but I don't think it would be a good idea," Durham resident Beverly Depass said.

Some local residents say, however, that raising the sales tax makes sense.

"I don't think a quarter-cent on the dollar is that much of a hike, and it would probably make a big difference in the schools that really need it in this recession," Claire Vinson said.