Local Politics

Durham tax on commuters floated, sunk

Posted February 23, 2011 6:35 p.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2011 10:40 a.m. EST

— As many as two-thirds of the people who work in Durham County don't live there, according to local estimates, and some local officials say those commuters are getting a free ride when it comes to county services.

"(Commuters) don't really contribute to the tax base in that way, so this is way for us to be able to get a step ahead. We are trying to do everything we can to avoid a property tax increase," Michael Page, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said.

Durham County Commissioner Joe Bowser proposed a 1 percent tax to raise revenue. He later took it off the table. 

Levying a tax on commuters would need approval from the General Assembly, and state Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said the proposal would likely go nowhere in the legislature.

The Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that more than 100,000 people drive to Durham County every day to work, with many headed to offices and laboratories in and around Research Triangle Park.

Stacey Logue, who drives from Johnston County to her job in RTP, said she doesn't think she should be taxed because she commutes.

"I think it would be awful. I mean, I wouldn't imagine I'd want to come out and work in this area," Logue said. "It's just one more way to get money out of us."

Casey Steinbacher, president of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, said a commuter tax could cost the county jobs.

"The idea of a commuter tax really is an added cost to businesses in Durham," Steinbacher said. "We are concerned that, in a regional economic development atmosphere, that additional cost would cause businesses to look at other locations."

RTP added more than $1.7 billion to Durham County's tax base last year, officials said, and employers like IBM, GlaxoSmithKline and Cree and their workers have a tradition of supporting local communities.

Durham County resident Charles Eatmon said a commuter tax wouldn't solve the county's budget problems.

"It sounds like a good idea at first," Eatmon said. "It may just be a knee-jerk reaction, and it would be difficult to implement."