In Our View
David F. Thompson is the executive director of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, the official voice of all 100 counties on issues being considered by the General Assembly, Congress and federal and state agencies.
Counties across North Carolina have been seeking additional revenue options to help fund their critical infrastructure needs and to relieve some of the pressure on property tax rates. In recent years, the only choice counties have had to fund these growing infrastructure and service demands is to raise property taxes.
A five-year projection of school capital needs released by the Department of Public Instruction in 2006 showed that counties need to spend $10 billion for new and renovated schools - and that’s just for the next five years.
The current drought the state is experiencing underscores the need for reliable and abundant sources of fresh water, as many septic systems around the state are failing. If fresh water is not available, counties can’t grow, businesses can’t expand and quality of life suffers.
Counties also have other needs such as life-saving EMS stations, courthouses and jails to advance justice and public safety, and libraries and parks and recreation facilities to maintain our quality of life. These are investments that must be made for communities to grow and prosper.
In many counties, the infrastructure demands are caused by our state’s ongoing population explosion. North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, and we are projected to add another 3 million citizens over the next two decades.
Other counties want to attract some of this growth and they want to invest in infrastructure without having to rely on increased property taxes.
Investments in infrastructure are some of the best investments that local governments can make. Businesses and industries want to locate in areas that already have in place the infrastructure, such as modern industrial parks, high-speed Internet connectivity, an adequate transportation system and reliable fresh water that will make their endeavors successful. They need a strong and vibrant community college system to provide them with a source of labor. They want programs such as excellent public schools, libraries and parks and recreation facilities so their employees will want to stay and raise their families.
How best to pay for these investments is an issue that has come to the forefront across the state. Typically, local government officials have to choose between increasing property taxes to pay for the investments or not making the investments and seeing their children go off to college and, in many instances, never come back.
In 2007-08, 48 of 100 counties increased property taxes, while 45 counties raised property taxes in 2005-06, including 19 with increases of at least 10 percent. Clearly, these kinds of significant and frequent increases are unsustainable and are leading many long-time residents to fear being taxed out of their homes.
Now, all citizens in North Carolina have been given the choice to help determine how their counties will fund some of these needs. All counties now have additional revenue options to deal with this rapid growth and infrastructure demands. These additional revenue options give counties an alternative to continued property tax increases when it comes to funding their future. The General Assembly’s decision to give counties - and ultimately the citizens in the counties - the opportunity to decide how to pay for the additional needs could not have come at a better time.