Officials weigh in on sales tax defeat

Signs outside the early voting location in Yadkin County encouraging voters to support a proposed sales tax increase.

Third time’s the charm, or so the saying goes, but not so when it comes to a proposed quarter cent sales tax increase in Yadkin County. Following a budget hearing in June, the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners decided to request a sales tax referendum be added to the November ballot. Yadkin voters soundly defeated the referendum with more than 60 percent of votes against the proposed increase.

Yadkin County Chairman Kevin Austin said it is unlikely the board will attempt to put a sales tax increase on the ballot again.

“This tax has been passed by many counties in North Carolina including several that border Yadkin,” explained Austin. “We felt it was the right time to give our citizens an opportunity to decide on this again, after two other attempts in 2010 and 2013. I seriously doubt that our current Board of Commissioners will put this on the ballot again.”

County Manager Lisa Hughes further explained that the proposed increase was one way the county could have generated additional revenue to meet needs including that of law enforcement.

“Sales taxes are one means of generating revenue to pay for mandated and optional services provided by counties,” said Hughes. “The sales tax referendum was an attempt to secure needed funds for law enforcement and our 11 volunteer fire and rescue departments.”

Hughes also pointed out that any Yadkin residents shopping in nearby counties would already being paying the tax to benefit other counties.

“If citizens are buying goods and services in Surry County, they have been paying 7 cents per $1 since 2007; in Wilkes County since 2010 and in Forsyth County since July. Surry, Wilkes and Forsyth join 45 other counties in North Carolina that have increased their local sales tax to at least 7 cents through referendums. The amount of revenue that would have been generated by the one-fourth of one penny sales tax increase ($580,000) equates to approximately 2 cents on the property tax rate,” Hughes said.

The proposal was first discussed at a public hearing in June regarding the new fiscal year budget for the county.

For safety reasons due to the pandemic, some public comments were submitted via email including one from a Yadkinville resident who suggested that a quarter center sales tax increase could “more evenly spread the cost of county services over the whole population of the county instead of most of the cost of the county services being paid for by the property owners.”

During that hearing, Austin noted the previous failures of such a measure but said he was willing to consider adding the measure to the ballot again as a way to meet future needs, noting specifically needs of the fire service.

In August the Board adopted a resolution to add the proposed sales tax increase to the November ballot. In a press release sent from the county, it was noted that the quarter cent increase, known as the sales and use tax, would be used specifically to support law enforcement, fire service and school capital needs.

Forty percent of the revenue from the proposed increase was to be used for salary increases and additional deputies at the Yadkin County Sheriff’s office, according to a press release distributed by Yadkin County ahead of the November election.

“It is the goal of the County Commissioners to retain dedicated and highly qualified law enforcement officers, detention officers and tele-communicators within the Sheriff’s Office. This is a challenging time to be in law enforcement when there have been so many movements to defund the police. We need law enforcement officers to be there and ready to respond when the tele-communicators dispatch them to come to our need,” the release stated in part.

Another 40 percent would have been distributed among the county’s volunteer fire departments and the remaining 20 percent for Yadkin County Schools capital needs.

“The Yadkin County Board of Commissioners has been diligent about protecting the financial position of the county and to control budgets over the last 10 years. The Board has lowered the property tax rate twice and maintained the 66 cents tax rate since 2014. The Commissioners believe this sales and use tax is the fairest way to continue to provide beneficial public safety services to everyone who lives in and visits our county,” concluded the press release sent earlier this year.

Hughes said in light of the sales tax increase’s failure to pass, some of the proposed needs will go unfunded at this time.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.