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Martin County to take tax to ballot

By Staff
Voters to have say on a quarter-cent
By NIKIE MAYO
News Editor
WILLIAMSTON — Martin County commissioners will ask voters in November if they’ll support an additional quarter-cent local sales tax, per a vote taken Wednesday night in Williamston.
This year, the General Assembly gave counties the authority to levy either an extra 0.4 percent land-transfer tax or a quarter-cent sales tax. Revenues generated from the taxes could be used to replace some of the funds counties give back to the state in their “tax swap” arrangement that is to bring about Medicaid relief.
But Martin County, like others, must have a referendum on the taxes before they can go into effect. Commissioners could have put both tax options on the November ballot and waited to see which might have passed. Instead, they wanted to “keep things simple,” according to Commissioner Ronnie Smith.
County Manager Russell Overman said that Martin County isn’t experiencing development boom that some surrounding counties are, so a land-transfer tax likely wouldn’t have as much impact there.
Commissioner Mort Hurst said the local sales tax would make more sense because “everybody coming into Martin County pays that.” Smith agreed, saying that the land-transfer tax would be felt by a much smaller group of people.
To have a referendum during November’s election, Martin County must notify the N.C. Board of Elections of its intent by Sept. 4. But even before then, the county must receive special approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. Because Martin County must abide by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department has to OK any vote-related changes, which must be done by Aug. 31. The Voting Rights Act exists to ensure there is no discrimination during the voting process.
If the sales tax is approved, the earliest it could go into effect is April 1, 2008. If it is not approved, there is no time limit the commissioners must abide by before posing the tax question again. The local sales tax would not have to be earmarked for a particular area of the county budget.