Tax debate divides GOP

Published 1:19 am Friday, September 9, 2011

Commissioners split over resolution to end tax increases

A resolution calling for the end of tax increases in Beaufort County led to heated debate among county leaders and, once again, highlighted divisions within the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners’ Republican contingent.

Tuesday, the board voted 5-2 to turn back a resolution — presented by Commissioner Stan Deatherage — calling for an end to tax increases of “any form” through 2012.

Deatherage and Commissioner Hood Richardson, Republicans, cast the only votes in favor of the proposal. Fellow GOP board members Al Klemm and Jay McRoy joined Democrats Ed Booth, Robert Cayton and Jerry Langley in opposing the resolution.

The vote came after spirited debate during which McRoy challenged Deatherage to present a 2012-2013 budget with no tax increase and Richardson told members of the public that McRoy is “sticking it to you.”

In late June, when it approved the county budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the board approved a 3 cents per $100 valuation increase in the property tax rate.

But as part of the budget resolution, the board stipulated that county residents have a chance to turn back half of that increase in the property-tax rate by approving a sales-tax increase in a referendum scheduled for May 2012.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Deatherage said an increase in the county’s sales-tax rate would put local merchants “at a disadvantage.”

Langley said the issue is not up to the commissioners, but up to the voters.

“If there is a sales-tax increase, it will not be decided by this board,” he said. “It will be decided by the voters themselves who will choose whether they do or do not want this tax.”

An effort by McRoy to table Deatherage’s motion until Deatherage “brings back a 2012-2013 budget with no tax increase” was ruled out of order.

Tuesday’s debate is the latest in a series of issues that continue to highlight differences between factions of the county’s Republican Party.

Through most of 2010, the debate over the fate of Beaufort Regional Health System pitted the more hard-core conservative GOP wing, represented by Richardson and Deatherage, against the more moderate wing, represented by Klemm and McRoy.

Richardson and Klemm and McRoy repeatedly scrapped during commissioners meetings over the future of the hospital.