County wants vote on tax hike

First Posted: 1/6/2014

LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday passed a resolution seeking approval from the General Assembly for a referendum to allow local residents to decide if they want a 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for a new county jail and technology high school.

Although the resolution passed unanimously, some commissioners were uncomfortable with the wording that potentially could lock in the specific projects that the money generated could fund.

While funding for the new jail is necessary to meet state regulations, Commissioners Hubert Sealey, Tom Taylor, Jerry Stephens, Lance Herndon and David Edge all said they would like to see money generated from an additional sales tax not restricted to a technology high school. There are other school needs in the county, they said.

“This would really narrow our abilities to move the money around,” Herndon said.

Taylor said he has been hearing from constituents that they aren’t opposed to the tax, but don’t want the revenue restricted to a jail and technology high school.

“Many don’t want to see so much spent on a new jail and say the old prison (on N.C. 711) that the state closed could be used for a jail,” Taylor said. “They also think that there are more needs in the county school system than a technology high school.”

Sealey told the commissioners that instead of spending money for a new technology high school, the money could go to expanding technology at Robeson Community College.

“Instead of spending $44 million on a technology high school, couldn’t we add on to what we have?” Sealey said. “I’d say we already have a state-of-the-art technology school in place at the community college.”

County Manager Ricky Harris told the board that the resolution is just a request for the county’s legislative delegation to win approval from the General Assembly for the referendum. Even if the General Assembly approves a referendum being held, Harris said, it does not ensure that Robeson County voters will approve the sales-tax hike.

Harris said that it will be up to the state to include in the bill how the money can be spent.

The cost of new jail construction has been estimated at about $40 million, while the projected cost of a technology high school is $44 million.

The commissoners have said they would not pursue an increase in the property tax as a funding option. The current property tax of 77 cents for every $100 of property value is already one of the highest in the state. Harris has said that an additional 10 cents on the tax rate would be needed to generate enough revenue to fund jail and high school construction.

Harris after the meeting was reluctant to give an opinion on whether the state would allow the referendum.

“In the past, it (General Assembly) would have let a referendum be held,” Harris said. “But I’m not sure what the current legislature will do.”

In other business, the commissioners on Monday:

— Passed a resolution proclaiming Robeson County as a “Purple Heart Community.”

Harold Hunt, commander of First American Chapter 822 of the Purple Heart, and Monty Oxendine, the chapter’s adjutant, were present to receive the recognition on behalf of Robeson County veterans. Chapter 822 includes Purple Heart recipients in Robeson, Hoke, Scotland, Bladen and Columbus counties.

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been wounded or killed in combat with a declared enemy of the United States.

— Heard an update on the third annual Book ‘Em North Carolina event from local author and Book ‘Em Foundation co-founder Trish Terrell. The event is Feb. 22 at Robeson Community College.

Terrell told the commissioners that the past two events have averaged an attendance of 3,000 visitors from across the country. This year it is expected that 75 authors, publishers, producers and literary agents will be available to discuss writing and publishing, as well as offer their books for sale.

Terrell told the commissioners that in the past two years the event has raised $18,600, all of which stays in the county to support programs for increasing literacy.

— Received from Lumberton High School wrestling coach Jamie Bell and wrestling team members certificates and medallions in appreciation of financial support for the high school’s wrestling program.

— Approved three rezoning requests. The rezonings allow for the establishment of a native tobacco smoke shop and cafe in Maxton; the construction of four apartment buildings in West Howellsville; and the establishment of a truck repair business in St. Pauls.

— Approved a request for a conditional-use permit that allows for the establishment of a native tobacco smoke shop and cafe in Maxton.

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