Quarter-Cent Sales Tax Referendum Gets a Second Chance

A committee to help pass the sales tax referendum has been created with representatives of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Alderspersons, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools Board of Education, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, The Partnership for Children, the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce, the Orange County Schools Board of Education, the Greater Chapel Hill Association of Realtor, and Orange County Justice United. 

I am serving on the Campaign for Jobs and Schools committee as a representative from Orange County Justice United. Justice United discussed the referendum at one of it’s full meetings and voted to endorse it. We are supporting the sales tax because funds raised in this way will reduce the exorbitant sewer and water rates for our lower income neighbors in the north of the county and will also reduce the tax burden on county homeowners, while supporting our schools.

50% of the revenue raised by the sales tax is designated to bring older schools up to date so that every school is a great school physically. The other 50% of the revenue will go to retaining and recruiting businesses andjobs through a revolving loan fund, improvement of infrastructure, and business incentives. These funds will be available throughout the county.

The County has funded the development of a PSA to educate voters about the importance of passage of the sales tax referendum. Watch at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxBYznMD5vc or below:

You can learn more about how the salestax revenue will be used by going to:



What do you think?



1) As a stand-alone proposal, it makes sense. County leadership has let the Economic Development Districts go undeveloped for way too long. Upgrading older schools is a good idea. And it's not a burdensome tax.2) An important reason that we need to keep raising taxes locally is that our tax money that goes to the Federal & State governments is increasingly not invested back on our behalf. Our Federal tax money, and to a lesser extent, our State tax money has been hijacked to benefit large corporations and the ultra-wealthy. The many wars that the U.S. is involved in are single-handedly diverting our money away from meeting our needs as a society. As long as we continue to accept this arrangement and keep raising local taxes, we are contributing to the further decline of our society. We are like the children and spouse of a drug addict who watch their food money dwindle, drop out of school to work an extra job, and don't speak publicly about the repercussions of living with a drug addict. We are enablers. We need to insist that local leadership communicate to our Federal and State reps that we want our money back. 3) I haven't seen details on the school upgrades. Will these include energy-efficiency and water efficiency improvements? 4) A significant part of the plan is to provide water to the Economic Development Districts (EDDs). I'd like to know more details about this. Typically, we don't spend much time understanding and discussing the implications of changing our water systems. It appears that the Orange-Alamance Water System will be providing substantial water to the EDDs. Their water comes primarily from large wells and they may need to drill more to meet this increased need. We don't sufficiently understand  our groundwater situation and more drilling may be risky. Additionally, Jordan Lake water will likely be wheeled to development in the EDDs. Have the implications of this been discussed and understood?5) I'm uncomfortable with a government that is supposed to represent all citizens simultaneously asking the citizens to vote and communicate how they feel about this tax while unabashedly running a public relations campaign in favor of voting for it.6) This tax was voted down in the last election which was county-wide. Rural voters were less supportive than urban voters. Scheduling this vote for the upcoming election in which only Chapel Hill-Carrboro voters have candidates to vote for is a calculated move by the County Commissioners and staff to do an end run around rural voters. This is not fair government and it is a bad precedent to set. As good an idea as this modest tax might be, the ends do not justify the means.

Mark, regarding your points:1) I think every tax is an added burden.  I certainly prefer the idea of a consumption tax to further property tax hikes, but I am concerned that this creates yet another disincentive for businesses to come to Orange vs. the surrounding counties.2) I doubt there's much our local government can do about this, sadly.3) An excellent point.  I'd like to know more too.4) Another excellent point.  Additional detail is certainly required.5) I just think it's a waste of $.6) It's an incredibly bad precedent, and it's an insulting attempt to circumvent a democratically voted on decision that's already been made.  Further additional $ are wasted opening the polls in the county for voters to be able to vote on this single topic.  For point 6 alone, I cannot in good faith support the tax.  


I would add to Mark's list of considerations that the sales tax is
permanent but the division of the revenue is only guaranteed for 10
years.For me, the scheduling of the election is reason enough to vote against it.

FWIW there is no legal "guarantee" of anything for any period of time.

Mark is right on 6. It is a blatant process to disenfranchise county  voters that will most likely not turn out since there are no people running in the county only the sales tax. This was voted down once and should not be brought up again. Everyone knows and complains about the high tax burden (mostly property taxes) in Orange county yet they (commissioners) want to give us another tax without any thought to property tax relief. This whole revenue  issue should be addressed in one process where new taxes such as sales tax, transfer tax, impact fees, etc. should be proposed in conjunction with property tax relief. The new taxes would allow commissioners to spread the revenue generation where the growth is occurring (ie new residential construction). A program to educate voters with examples of how much property tax relief they woud realize would help convince voters these taxes would work for them instead of against them and hopefully make the county more realistic for lower and middle class people to afford to live in Orange county. I am truly dissappointed in our elected officals for sneaking this in and disenfranchising county voters (none of them will get my vote again). Yet they treat us like fools convincing themselves the reason the vote failed was because we were uneducated and stupid. The answer the issue didn't pass is simple, people are overburdened with local taxes in orange county and simply don't ANY new taxation. Thankfully we have an option. If this passes all my non food and medicine shopping will occurr at Tanger outlets, Southpoint and other shopping areas outside Orange county.Wake up Chapel Hill and Carrboro voters.  Vote AGAINST this measure.

you should also be prepared to give up government services, including further reductions in the education budget line.We have the tax rates we have because citizens want services. Not all want the same services; for example, county residents care more about the convenience center schedules. But everyone wants something. If tax rates are cut, then what are you willing to give up from those services you care about? If this referendum doesn't pass, how do you propose that we encourage new commercial development that will, in the long run, lead to property tax relief for all? 

Again we shouldn't be talking about passing this referendum, the referendum already failed in a democratic vote. Hmmmm a higher sales tax is going to help commercial development?? I seriously question that premise. Our local politicians have been dreaming about commercial growth forever and I seriously doubt they will acheive it (otherwise Tanger Outlet would be in Orange county).  Read the response again. It is all about fairness in generating revenue from new taxes combined with property tax relief allowing a fairer distribution of the cause of the growth. I'm paying way more than what I believe my fair share should be (almost $5000 per year) for the sevices I get (almost none). Im fully prepared to give up a portion of the services I get NOTHING from yet PAY a good deal of money for.We have the tax rate growth we have because new residential growth does NOT cover the NEW sevices they demand and consequently the burden is spread to us all cusing huge growth in our property tax. Schools take 50% of the budget . Whenever a new school is needed (because of new growth) we have no excess capacity and we must build expensive new schools.It's all about giving commissioners options to spread the burden.We all have been forced to cut back with this economy (higher cost of living, no tax relief, no raises) and it WILL continue. UNC lost 22% of their budget this year. The whole state budget has been cut drastically. Our local governments should be prepared to cut back as well. We ALL have to tighten our belts.

One of the reasons Tanger isn't in Orange County is because our "economic development zones" do not have water/sewer service to tham.  This additional sales tax includes funding to pay for that service.  We won't get Tanger to move, but we will be able to attract other (probably non-retail) businesses if we have the right infrastructure.

I wasn't aware that that huge planned mall/residential/commercial development just across the border from Tanger in Orange county was cancelled because of sewer/water. Hadn't Orange county been working for a while to get this development built?? Didn't we have developers ready to take it on?? Was it not stopped because Tanger beat us to the punch?? Does Tanger have sewer aned water??

FYI Buckner the County taxpayers are paying for the new convenience center schedules that went into place today in the form of a new fee (tax).

Did they add new hours or just shift the hours around? It's one of the services I, as a county resident, use regularly, along with curbside recycling.

They did both in respect to the hours. Check the County website.Question, do you live in  one the planning areas for the towns? Do you feel it is cost effective to do curbside recycling in rural areas of the County?I do not have curbside recycling and do not want it because when I take my trash off I recycle then and for two households not just one.

I have gone to the sites above and the question that doesn't get answered and is the most important for me is - What will be taxed?  The sales pitches listed above (and they are sales pitches) are telling me what won't be taxed but clearly something will be taxed. I am trying to decide if this is a fairer way for the County to raise money than an increase in the property tax, since that seems like the only real alternative.  I believe the County government's need for more money is real and I support it.  I think there are fairer ways to raise County funds than either option but I recognize that at least for the time being they are irellevant.  I have discussed them on this site before.  I voted in favor of the sales tax last time but I know sales taxes are inherently regressive, excluding food makes them less so but something is being tax.  I am disturbed by the sales pitch and the highly political, antidemocratic manner in which this need is being handled but I am sincerely trying to ignore that fact and make a decision on merit.  When I went to the site listed above it got me thinking about what was missing from the things that won't be taxed.  Will some (residential) electric bills be taxed but other electric bills won't?  What else?  I suppose that the tax will be paid by everyone that uses the County whether they live here or not is good but I am not even sure of that.  I hope I can find an answer.A related question will the funds that go to school building be to support a bond issue or will it be using current funds to meet future needs? 

The tax base for the 1/4% sales tax is the same as for the current 2% local sales tax EXCEPT that food is excluded.  Electricity and prescription drugs are already exempt from the local sales tax.

Thanks Jerry, Ok, I guess I was confused by the County "information" site where it talked about certain uses of electricity that would not taxed.  From a State site I learned  that the tax would be on the "sale of tangible personal property, certain digital property and certain taxable services".  So clothes, stuff bought in the supermarket that is not food but what else? Can you or anyone direct me to a site that says what will be taxed?  I guess not automobiles although I think they are tangible personal property. 

Not sure how this will reduce county tax rates. I wasn't aware of any property tax relief in the referendum. Was not aware northern Orange County outside of Hillsborough paid for their septic tanks and wells. Are the sewer and tax raters paid for by property and sales tax. If so I don't have sewer and water from a utility why should I pay for it.

The rates for that system do not cover the entire cost of operating the system (because it was never built out and the rates were frozen for a long time).  The system was originally built to support a school (owned by the county), but needs to be connected and transferred to Mebane operation now.  The county will save general fund subsidies they are paying for the system today, so yes your property taxes are paying for not having this today.

I thought the county was not supposed to to take a stand, why would they be educating us stupid voters to pass the referendum. Of course us stipid voters need an edgycation. Wear not smirt enuff to kno whin were being sflim flaned and excluded. Take realistic look at this. Many county residents feel they pay enough taxes and DON'T want anymore, that's why we voted it down in the frist place. It is an insult to throw this back at us (it has already been voted down), disenfranchise us and expect us to support it.

No, Amoose the Commissioners expect us (rural folks) to oppose it but, just not as many of the rural folks will show up to vote NO in Nov. Turnout is the key here!

I don't agree with his conclusion (I feel we need to pass this, so let's do it), but I'm glad Mark took his concerns public and voiced his opinion here -- http://www.chapelboro.com/topic/play_window.php?audioType=Episode&audioI...I'll just comment that the schools $ will be spent about 1/2 on energy efficiency projects (see http://tinyurl.com/6h868se for CHCCS response, I'm sure OC has a similar one).  Other 1/2 is for technology needs.

As a rural resident, I understand the disenfranchisement that folks outside the urban areas have experienced on so many issues over the years. I believe it is fundamentally important to respect all the voters and to err on the side of being more democratic rather than less. The calculated nature of scheduling this vote just one year later during an election with no candidates on the ballot for rural voters to consider is simply not right.

I'm with Mark on this - I would have easily voted for the sales tax in 2012-Today I am uncertain.  

 Was it necessary to throw democracy under the bus?   Rather than all the cheerleading for schools and economic development, wouldn't it be better to have an honest discussion about the state of the county's economy?  All of it?

The sales tax is the best way to squeeze some money out of students and visitors and others who spend money in bars and restaurants.    Since the BoCC cannot commit future boards to the usage - the 10 year commitment is suspect.  To me, that's a distraction.  It's a tax.  Just put the money in the pot and manage it.   

I'm more concerned that no one's discussing upcoming economic challenges.  What's going to happen with the 2012 reval?  the closing of the landfill?  unfunded priorities such as the 911 systems?   Where's the impetus to find  better ways to do things?  Certainly some programs that worked for a small college town are not sustainable in a growning, diverse community of 130,000 people.

How many fees can the county add and continue to say "we've not increased taxes"? (BTW - the convenience center fee is the third SW fee. When it grows as planned to $40,  residents will be paying about $125-$150 a year  for convenience centers)

I'm probably going to hold my nose and vote for the sales tax.  Most importantly I will vote.   To me, its most important that the rural vote count - no matter what it is.   

Bonnie Hauser

Orange County Voice

I'm still undecided about the sales tax referendum. Half of the revenues will go to the schools, which I support. The other half will be used in large part to support the county's "economic development districts." Like Kirk Ross, "I’m troubled by an infusion of tax dollars into an economic-development effort that doesn’t seem to have found its footing yet." I'm also skeptical about the willingness of the county commissioners to think creatively about economic development, to privilege independent locally owned businesses, or to give priority to initiatives that promote sustainable land use planning over sprawling office parks and retail developments. (Read the county manager's uninspiring vision for economic development here. While you're at it, ask yourself why it's the county manager articulating the vision rather than the commissioners.) And then there's the decision to conduct a countywide sales tax referendum during an election in which the entire county is not able to participate. For this reason alone, I'm considering simply not casting a vote on the issue.What do you think? 

I may be worng but I thought I read somewhere that 50% money would accrue in a special account for new projects rated by the school systems. Seems like in this econmoy it should go in to the pot to fund what we were currenlty short on and maybe give hard pressed Orange county property tax payers a little relief.

The state cuts (and lottery reductions) that have occurred over the past several years has caused reduction in capital funds available for maintenance in our schools by almost half.  The sales tax revenue will be available to partially make up for that gap.  The schools are planning to spend about half that on energy efficiency projects (lighting, new HVAC systems) that will actually benefit future utility bills which come out of operating funds.  So, you're welcome -- you will get property tax relief from this.

Oh!!! When can I expect to see my exorbitant property tax which I pretty much get no services for go DOWN.Many county residents are struggling to pay these exorbitant property taxes (I guess you didn't attend with the thousands of residents that did, the tax rallies after the last revaluation) and there is no guarantee that next year we won't get wacked with another property tax increase and  who knows how bad we'll get nailed with another valuation on the horizon. Stand out on 54 someitme and see the stream of commuters that work in but can't afford to live in Orange county. Also I keep reminding here that the thing was ALREADY voted down. The system is BROKEN for the middle and lower classes. We need a COMPREHENSIVE tax plan that utilizes all available revenue generators combined with giving residents TRUE property tax relief (ie they go down) presented in ONE package with education to convince voters they will come out ahead in terms of property tax relief and give commssioners power to spread the bill to the causes of growth.

I'm too tired (and distracted by an odd World Series game) to go into all the details, but you realize he's advocating property tax increases instead of this tax, right?  I know there are those who think that's ok (even preferred), but let's remember, this isn't any old sales tax -- it doesn't apply to gas, medicine, groceries.  Plus, the sales tax puts a portion of the burden (20%) on people who don't live here who are getting benefits of OC work and play without paying much for it today.  I wish we had a recording of last night's Lake Hogan Farms school board forum.  We had different answers from all 6 candidates for why Kirk is so wrong on this.  Mine was a) we suffer as a county because UNC pays no property tax (ie, huge imbalance since they are largest commercial operation), so increasing sales tax is reasonable response; and b) how does he think we can issue bonds when the county already is asking the school district to borrow money to start Elementary #11 as they are at their debt ceiling this fiscal year?btw, the economic development district portion of this money is already bonds to fund infrastructure.  Why should we allow districts to sit empty instead of investing in shared infrastructure that will generate jobs and future revenue?  We need the sales tax to pay those bonds back.

Polls will be open throughout the county. And in Hillsborough, where there are no contested elections, the early voting numbers are 2nd only to the Seymour Center.  http://www.co.orange.nc.us/elect/documents/2011One-stopTotals.pdf Follow me on Twitter @MayorMarkK or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/groups/91222152476?ap=1 or http://www.facebook.com/mark.kleinschmidt

Thanks for the correction, Mark. It was, nevertheless, cynical to put the referendum on the ballot during an election in which voters in rural areas of the county are not otherwise involved.

This situation is similar to what happened in Wake County in their school board elections. Schedule a vote on an off year and push your point to the people that support your point and who will turn out even if a minority. Count on the majority  not showing and your point can win which happened in the Wake county school board elections previous to this go round (where reasonable people have the chance to regain control of that school board). I am disgusted with our supposedly progressive Orange County commissioners for doing this trickery and will not vote for any of them in the future.

Tanger Outlet and Southpoint here we come.

Durham County has a .25 cent sales on their ballot too, along with a .5 cent sales tax for regional transit (one I hope we'll have a chance to vote on next year).  I believe the transit .5 cent would only go into effect if Orange and Wake pass the same next year.Here's a link to the ballot voters in unincorporated Durham County will get.http://www.co.durham.nc.us/departments/elec/2011_Election/Sample%20Ballots/November/1NNCDURH_G0003.pdf  Follow me on Twitter @MayorMarkK or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/groups/91222152476?ap=1 or http://www.facebook.com/mark.kleinschmidt


That's great that Durham gets to vote on these 2 taxes. Hopefully the results will not be ignored like the .25 sales tax vote in Orange county was. The .25 in Orange was defeated in a vote that was participated by a fair distribution of ALL county voters in a democratic election. This vote has been ignored and re-scheduled in a way that disenfranchises rural voters. I wish that Orange county commisioners had focused on the .5 transit tax (they voted to ignore that one) instead of a retread of the sales tax. An improved transit system  with light rail connecting Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill is a much more valuable endeaver to the future of the economy in the Triangle. As oil gets more and more expensive a good transit system will be the savior of the economy of the Triangle. I'm a principaled person and believe in democracy. I'll still shop at Tanger and Southpoint for my .25 sales taxed items no matter how Durham votes.

As a resident of Durham County and Chapel Hill, I have the good fortune of a ballot with not only both transit and education referenda on it, but also the candidates for Town Mayor and Council.  After voting for the referenda, I'll move on to voting for Mark...Ed Harrison

that there is no turning back on dissing rural voters. The BOCC & County staff are supporting a vote during this county off-year election because they believe it will pass and move them toward their goals (not bad goals). It's too bad that they don't also have as a primary goal the inclusiveness of rural citizens. They've got the demographic power and they are using it. That's politics. However, we are capable, in this enlightened county, of taking a more holistic and community-oriented approach. County leadership does not appreciate this aspect. If we are to move forward efficiently in these challenging times, it's not strategic (or neighborly) to alienate rural citizens. A vote in 2012 could have worked. Is one year worth the trouble? 

Hey - just to clarify - the alternative was to place the sales tax referendum on the May 2012 primary ballot - which Earl McKee, Valerie Foushee and Alice Gordon voted for.   So it would have been a 6 month delay - not a year

Bonnie Hauser

There are a lot of misconceptions about the 1/4 sales tax that have been coming up in this thread. I'd like to provide some more information. The proposed quarter-cent does not apply to groceries a small business might purchase stocking up at Costco. Other items exempt from the proposed quarter-cent include prescription medication,gasoline, certain agricultural supplies, and motor vehicles. [North Carolina General Statute 105-164.13; North Carolina General Statute 105-164.13B]Consumers and small businesses alike might be interested in shopping at a Costco – in Orange County. We might be able to recruit a Costco, if we have the infrastructure in our economicdevelopment districts, which is what the quarter-cent will help fund. [Proposed Economic Development Uses of Sales Tax Proceeds, Orange County website]We should also be aware that the state sales tax rate was rolled back one penny, which means Orange County residents are paying1 cent less in sales tax on purchases made this year than they were last year [NC Department of Revenue notice, 6/16/11].The proposed quarter-cent is the equivalent of a penny on a $4.00 purchase or a quarter on a $100 purchase.Another claim is that because there are only municipal elections this voting cycle, people out in the county will not have an incentive to come vote on the 1/4 sales tax. This is something we in Justice United were very concerned about because we have memebrs from all over the county. We held a meeting with the Chair of the Board of County Commissioners and asked her frank questions about this. We ultimately decided there was great need in the North part of the county for improved infrastructure, particularly for the Efland-Cheeks community we are in partnership with and so, we choose to endorse the sales tax despite our belief that the May elections would have been a more appropriate time. There is need now.  For more information:Hillsborough Leaders Endorse the 1/4 Sales Tax  

What a lame excuse for an organization that supposedly supports justice. I guess rural residents don't deserve your supposed justice for their disenfranchisement. I guess your organization supports voter id because a bunch of high powered republicans want to disenfranchise voters who won't support their ideas. You should be ashamed of this organization.The truth is that this tax was ALREADY voted down in a fair representaive DEMOCRATIC vote including everyone, and is now being brought back in a sneaky way that disenfranchises rural residents.A huge faction of Orange county residents are stretched thin when it comes to local taxes and don't want ANY new  taxes. Let's like the University budget work with what we currently have. Their budget went down by 30% in the last few years. I don't beleive Orange counties has gone down at all. Let's face reality.

Just because something is voted down once doesn't mean it can't be brought up for a vote again.  I support the 1/4 cent sales tax but I strongly disagree with the County Commissioners bringing it up for a vote in a cycle which would likely minimize rural participation.  I think they have done a disservice to us all by making a significant portion of our county's citizens feel like they are disenfranchised.  Not a good way to build unity in anyone's book.

Well, hmm. Couple of things.I never called for a property tax increase.  I said if something important needs to be funded for schools we should have a bond referendum (which would likely pass) and fund it. The result may or may not lead to a tax increase and I said if it did I would pay for it (school construction and repair) willingly as voters here have done since I moved here 26 years ago. The commissioners make those kinds of choices every year with their capital improvement plan. We chose to build lots of things in the past few years that weren't schools and are paying for them now through property taxesas in: http://www.co.orange.nc.us/construction/ My main concern is that we're being asked to shoulder $1 million or so a year in additional taxes for an economic development strategy that is far too vague in a county with a lousy economic development track record. With all due respect, running water and sewer to the economic development districts does not equal jobs. It may give us an edge on recruiting, but it will cost an estimated $6 million over the next 10 years with no promise of a return.  Then there is the 200K a year for setting up a "private-public" economic development structure that also seems vague and 100K a year for site improvements to lure development.That adds up to a lot of money, tax money. Tax money that was raised with a regressive mechanism that will go toward incentives, site prep and infrastructure for as yet unnamed and/or unknown corporations. I'm also worried about oversight, cost controls and transparency.I like jobs and schools, but am also a big fan of accountability and long-range planning. If this package were split 75 to 25 percent schools to jobs, I'd probably go for it. But I'm wary and, as I said, not convinced it's the right move. I also get nervous when public policy is driven by a crisis, real or manufactured.Thanks

Kirk, I agree with most of what you say above but I am not convinced that if the referendum were to fail the Commissioners would call for a new bond issue to support the capital needs of the school system.  Therefore I will vote for the sales tax. 


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