The Sampson Board of Commissioners’ May 16 split vote against pursuing legislative approval for a 1/4-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot was flipped during a special-called meeting late Tuesday afternoon.
In another 3-2 vote, this time in approval of seeking the measure, Commissioner Jarvis McLamb made the motion to move ahead, reversing his vote from a week and a half before. No other board member changed their vote. Commissioner Billy Lockamy and board chairman Jefferson Strickland voted for seeking legislative approval for the sales tax hike, while Commissioners Albert Kirby and Harry Parker again voted against.
McLamb, who was adamant in his opposition to another tax on residents during the May 16 session, said he did not fully understand that citizens themselves would be making the decision.
“I don’t think I understood this as well as I should have,” he said. “I think it’s about letting the citizens have a chance to approve this.”
An additional 1/4-cent sales tax would generate just over $900,000 a year to the county, equivalent to between 2 and 2.5 cents on the property tax rate. The county would net about $850,000 of that sum, with roughly $60,000 to be split among the municipalities. Should it pass in November, the additional 1/4-cent sales tax would not take effect until April 2015, meaning the boost would have limited effect on the 2014-15 budget but be well underway leading into the 2015-16 year.
The county’s current tax rate stands at 7 cents. The referendum, if voted in, would take that to 7.25 percent, the highest in the state.
The resolution approved Tuesday stated that empowering the county to levy an additional 1/4-cent local option sales tax would provide the additional revenues for critical needs, while “equitably spreading the tax burden” among the populous.
“Poor economic conditions have contributed to sluggish tax base growth and have created financial pressures on local governments which necessitate that we seek to broaden our revenue sources and reduce our dependence on ad valorem property taxes as the principal source of revenue for our capital construction, public infrastructure and local government service needs,” the resolution states.
Kirby said there should be no bones about the underlying aim of voting for such a resolution.
“Let us not be mistaken about the purpose here,” Kirby said in a prepared statement he read to fellow commissioners and county staff. “The purpose is not simply to put a measure before the voters for their approval. The purpose is for you to raise their taxes under the pernicious guise or ruse that they themselves are doing it.”
Lockamy again said he believed the sales tax was “the fairest of all,” and he and along with Strickland and McLamb felt it should be up to the voters to decide.
“We live in a free democracy and I think that by putting this on the ballot, we have the time to give the citizens of Sampson County the opportunity to speak,” Lockamy asserted. “We don’t really have to enforce it if it does pass, but I do think it’s the fairest tax. The property owners cannot continue to burden all the debts of the county.”
Kirby said commissioners were elected to make those tough decisions, not pass the buck.
“We were elected to make the hard decisions with respect to spending and taxing and cutting and either adding to or eliminating waste in government. That is our date and our duty alone.It is not delegable,” he stated.
Kirby also pointed out the fact that, should the measure receive legislative approval and ultimately be approved by taxpayers in November, it would put Sampson in rarefied air — and not in a positive way.
“Should this resolution prevail at the ballot box, and I pray it does not, we will be left the dubious distinction of being the county with the highest sales tax in our state,” Kirby remarked. “This will go along with the other shameful fact that we have the highest property taxes of all contiguous counties.”
It is simply unfair to raise taxes, or be for the prospect of a possible raise in taxes, when there is waste in government, the commissioner said.
“We should seriously consider cuts and cutting back on spending. The taxpayers are not dumb,” said Kirby. “Hiding behind this resolution in raising the sales tax is like providing the gasoline for a barn burning and, after the building is burned, saying that you had nothing to do with it — when, in fact, has you not provided the gas, the building could not have been destroyed.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.