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Martin County officials: sales tax a ‘big help’

By Staff
New tax will not go into effect until April 2008
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
On Tuesday, Martin County joined but a handful of counties in granting their governing body the right to levy a quarter-cent sales and use tax to help with the rising cost of growth. A blanket tax that may ease the need to raise property taxes, county officials said.
The referendum passed in Martin County with 1,815 votes in favor and 1,275 votes against. The tax will not go into effect until formally approved by the Martin County Board of Commissioners.
Martin County Commissioner Mort Hurst said county residents passed the tax because “they know it is the fairest tax to pay.” He credits county residents with “intelligence” in understanding the importance of revenues the tax will bring.
County Manager Russell Overman projects that the sales tax will generate $497,000 per years for the county. That is equivalent to a $.0325 increase in the property tax rate.
Overman said the next step would be for commissioners to adopt a resolution to levy the tax which Hurst said he anticipated would be soon if not at their next monthly meeting. The earliest the tax could go into effect would be April 1, according to Overman.
With the tax on the ballot in neighboring Pitt County, Hurst said it was important that Martin County pass the tax if it passed there.
Commissioners decided to hold a referendum on the sales tax rather than a land-transfer tax because that tax is tied to economic growth, Hurst said.
Counties were given the authority to hold a referendum on one or the other tax by the General Assembly with the passage of its 2007-2009 budget. The additional sources of revenues were designed to give counties options other than raising property taxes to pay for public works and school construction needs. Five counties, including Martin, passed the sales tax. Catawba, Pitt, Sampson and Surry counties were the others. The land-transfer tax failed in all 16 counties where it appeared on the ballot, including Washington County.
The General Assembly put no restrictions on where commissioners could spend revenues from either tax, which would be deposited in the county’s general fund. Hurst said commissioners would most likely look at putting the finds toward school construction and teacher subsidies.
Overman said commissioners have not discussed with him, nor have they made any plans regarding how to spend the sales-tax revenues, but with the April 1 deadline more than four months out, he said “they’ll have plenty of time to decide.”