RALEIGH — A bill that would give Robeson County the go-ahead for a referendum on a local 1-cent sales tax increase must be filed in Raleigh today for the bill to being considered by the General Assembly during its short session.
State Sen. Michael Walters, a Democrat from Proctorville, said Tuesday that the bill is ready to be filed in the Republican- controlled Senate, but he is waiting for word from Senate leaders if they will allow the bill to move forward.
“The bill has not yet been introduced and I am talking now with the leadership,” Walters said. “I hope to hear something shortly.”
The Robeson County Board of Commissioners in early January passed a resolution asking the General Assembly for permission to hold a referendum to allow local residents to decide if they want a 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for construction of a county jail and technology high school. County Manager Ricky Harris said that county officials will discuss their request with Walters and the county’s House representatives, Democrats Charles Graham, Garland Pierce, Ken Waddell and Ken Goodman, when they attend County Assembly Day today in Raleigh.
Walters said that the bill he plans to introduce would only ask the General Assembly to allow the county to hold a referendum. As written, Walters said, the bill would request that revenue generated by the sales tax be used to fund construction of a new county jail and for “school construction.” The bill does not specifically name the proposed technology high school as being constructed with tax revenue, Walters said.
Graham said Tuesday that Robeson County’s delegation in the House is waiting to see if the local bill is introduced in the Senate. He said that if that happens, a companion bill would immediately be introduced in the House.
Like the Senate, the House is controlled by the GOP, whose members are traditionally more likely than Democrats to oppose any form of tax increase. Many have signed a pledge saying they will oppose any tax increase.
Graham was not optimistic about the fate of the county’s local bill during the short session.
“I think it’s a big if,” he said. “It’s really up to the chairs. I would hope they give us (Robeson County representatives) a chance to be heard and show our support for our constituents.”
The county’s current sales tax is 7 percent, which includes a quarter-cent sales tax hike approved by voters in August 2010. The proposal, if approved, would push that to 8 percent, one of the highest in the state.
Kellie Blue, the county’s finance director, said at the time the commissioners passed their resolution requesting the referendum that the 1-cent hike would generate about $5.5 million a year for the county. The total cost of the new jail and technology school has been projected to be about $84 million.
Both Blue and Harris have said that the only other way to fund construction of the jail and school is for the county to increase property taxes. The county’s current property tax rate of 77 cents for each $100 of property value is among the highest property tax rates in North Carolina.