The coin has to land correctly not once but twice before residents in perhaps the poorest county in the state will enjoy the distinction of having to pay the highest sales tax in North Carolina.
That is the wish of the county Board of Commissioners, which wants a referendum so voters can decide if they prefer an increase in the sales tax of 1 cent, pushing the rate to 8.25 percent, as a way to pay for a new jail and perhaps a technology high school.
The other option, a hike in the property tax rate of as much as 10 to 12 cents, isn’t an option at all. The commissioners aren’t going to commit political suicide by raising the property tax rate — at 77 cents for every $100 of property already one of the most oppressive in the state — while they continue to enjoy pay and benefits like none of their peers.
The first coin will be tossed into the air in May, when the General Assembly reconvenes and local legislators are expected to introduce legislation asking for the referendum.
While local bills historically are green-lighted in Raleigh, this one could become a 50-50 proposition. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, and many have pledged not to allow any taxes to climb. It will be up to our local legislators to convince the Republicans that the increase in the sales tax in Robeson County is not contrary to their philosophy behind tax reform — which is to spread the pain and not target the wealthy or property owners.
Should legislators approve the bill and a referendum follows, expect it to be held separate from a regular election, as the county did in August 2010, when voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax hike. A special election doesn’t invite hauling as there is no one to pay the bill, and therefore ensures a higher percentage of determined and informed voters who are more likely to prefer a sales tax hike to any chance of an increase in the property tax.
Robeson County residents, now informed about the excesses our commissioners enjoy, are in a foul mood, and might not support the construction of a jail to make life more comfy for inmates, or a technology high school that many see as a luxury, not a necessity.
We encourage the county to continue to explore options outside of building a new jail at a cost of $40 million or a new high school at a cost of $44 million.
But if there is a referendum, let’s call it resulting in an approval of a tax hike another 50-50.
The chances of a coin landing on its head twice in a row will always be 25 percent. The county, if it wants this tax hike approved, has a lot of work to do to improve those odds.