Sales tax put to a vote

Published 12:34 am Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beaufort County voters will get to decide in May whether to increase the county’s sales tax in exchange for a future reduction in the county’s property tax.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted 5-2 to go ahead with a referendum to be placed on the ballot in May that would increase the county’s sales tax – a move that could lead to a 1.5 cent reduction in the county’s property tax rate.

Commissioners Stan Deatherage and Hood Richardson cast the dissenting votes.

Deatherage said he preferred that the referendum be placed on the ballot in November when more people are likely to go to the polls to cast votes in the general election instead of the primaries in May.

Richardson said the sales tax referendum is “a useless, worthless proposal that is going to raise your taxes” because the county commissioners will likely raise property taxes in the future even if a sales tax increase is approved.

Richardson also said he was concerned about the county’s ability to prepare a balanced budget based on projected sales tax receipts.

But other members of the panel said it’s important to let the voters decide how they want to be taxed.

“The people will be given a choice,” said board Chairman Jerry Langley. “They can make wise decisions.”

Others said they prefer a sales tax because it imposes the county’s tax burden not only on property owners but also on those who make purchases in the county.

“A sales tax is a fairer tax because a sales tax is paid for by everyone,” he said.

In June, 2011, when its members approved the county’s budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the board approved a tax rate of 53 cents per $100 valuation, a three cents per $100 valuation increase over the previous year. It became effective July 1, 2011.

But the $50 million budget included a provision that would give county residents the chance to turn back 1.5 cents of the tax increase by approving an equivalent sales-tax increase in a referendum to be scheduled for May.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, the sales tax rate in Beaufort County is 6.75 percent with 4.75 percent designated for state coffers and the remaining two percent designated for the county, according to information from the N.C. Department of Revenue.

Kellie Hopkins, secretary to the county’s Board of Elections, met with the commissioners and said she would submit the referendum date to the U.S. Department of Justice as required by the Voting Rights Act.

All commissioners attended the meeting.