Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Will voters hose themselves on referendum?

From today's N&O, by sweet little Peggy Lim:
Johnston to have two tax votes

Sales tax, transfer issues are ahead

SMITHFIELD - Johnston County voters will have their say in November on both a possible new land transfer tax and a quarter-cent sales tax increase.

County commissioners voted 5-2 Tuesday to put referendums for both items on the November ballot. The state recently approved the options as possible revenue sources for local governments, but the options must first be approved by the residents governed by those boards.

It will cost about $40,000 to hold the referendums in about 16 precincts that are not having town elections this year, said Leigh Anne Price, elections director. But the county won't have to pay to add the question to the ballot in about 28 precincts already holding municipal elections this November.

"I'm all for listening to what the people say," said Commissioner Allen Mims.

Approval from the voters does not mean either of the taxing options must be implemented. If voters approve both, state law would require commissioners to pick one. If a majority of the county's voters oppose the options, commissioners would be barred from adopting them.

The county would earn more from the .4 percent land transfer tax option, about $4.5 million per year. A quarter-cent sales taxes would bring in about $3.4 million a year.

Board Chairwoman Cookie Pope and Vice Chairman Wade Stewart voted against holding a referendum on either tax option.

"Why go through the exercise and spend money if you're not going to follow through?" Stewart said.

Stewart said that he does not think the county needs another revenue source and that a land transfer tax would be a greater burden on lifelong residents of Johnston County.

The county recorded about 8,000 land transfers last year, Stewart said. But it only adds about 1,500 new homes a year, he said.

Mims argued that a land transfer tax does reflect growth. And if a land transfer tax were backed by voters, he would favor using the funds for school construction. The county could also use more money for debt service, road improvements or a break on property taxes, Mims said.

On a $150,000 home, a land transfer tax would add about $600 to the final price.

Other counties in the Triangle also have been weighing whether to move forward with referendums on the tax options. Durham commissioners held a public hearing on the issue Monday but made no decision. Wake County has decided not to add the referendums on the November ballot.

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