Chatham commissioners mull uses for local option sales tax

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 7/19/19

PITTSBORO – The Chatham County Board of Commissioners has narrowed down potential uses of a yet-to-be finalized local option sales tax referendum.

At least, they’ve picked five possible uses …

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Chatham commissioners mull uses for local option sales tax

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Posted

PITTSBORO – The Chatham County Board of Commissioners has narrowed down potential uses of a yet-to-be finalized local option sales tax referendum.

At least, they’ve picked five possible uses they’d like county staff to study before making a decision.

At Monday night’s meeting, the board discussed affordable housing, education expenses, land banking, broadband and agriculture as possible categories for any funds coming from a potential 1/4-cent sales tax, if approved by county voters.

Commissioners had previously heard a presentation on the subject in February, a meeting during which they also instructed staff to begin the formal process for putting the referendum on March 2020 primary ballots. County Budget Analyst Darrell Butts repeated the presentation with additional information on bills proposed in the N.C. General Assembly that might alter the process.

Commissioner Karen Howard immediately put forward affordable housing, saying the board has “heard from a lot of constituents about that possibility,” while Board Vice Chair Diana Hales said she supported funds for education as well as affordable housing.

“We are in a good position in that Chatham does have the impact fee still that helps with our school construction, our capital expenses,” Hales said. “Education is, I think, a worthy area to also have extra funding going to. I agree with affordable housing definitely, but if we have an option to fund more than one thing or two things, education should be on that short list.”

Commissioner Jim Crawford agreed that education and affordable housing should be considered, particularly with two new schools coming online in the next 18 months. Chairman Mike Dasher added broadband initiatives to the conversation, and Commissioner Andy Wilkie said the Agriculture Advisory Board, of which he is a member, wanted the funds for agriculture purposes.

Board members also discussed the possibility of land banking, in which the county would use the funds to buy up land for future projects like schools and government buildings and expansions.

Staff will take a look at all of the options and bring information back for the September board meeting, County Manager Dan LaMontagne said, but board members seemed to be interested in having multiple uses spelled out.

Currently, state law does not require a stated use on the referendum, but all the counties around Chatham which have passed the tax — Orange, Durham, Moore, Randolph, Harnett and Lee — approved a resolution of intended use prior to the vote. Each referendum included education expenses.

However, there are multiple bills before the state legislature that would allow counties to spell out exact uses on the ballot referendum and specify certain uses. “Any public purpose” is one of the listed uses, which would allow flexibility for county boards.

According to the N.C. Dept. of Revenue, Chatham could have brought in $1.6 million with the tax in place in 2017, equivalent to about 1.5 cents on the property tax rate. Butts said the predicted rise in commercial development coming to the county could increase that figure in coming years. Visitor spending increased in the county by an average of 3.5 percent per year from 2013-2017.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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