County gambles on new sales tax

Commissioners Ted Kaplan, Fleming El-Amin, Gloria Whisenhunt listen during Monday's hearing on the county budget.

County gambles on new sales tax
June 07
12:49 2018

Instead of raising taxes in Forsyth County’s proposed budget, county commissioners plan to gamble on taxpayers approving a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for the debt it’ll take to build the new courthouse.

That’s the consensus that was reached on Tuesday afternoon, June 5, during a budget workshop. The budget proposed by County Manager Dudley Watts was $433.9 million and included a 2.3 cents property tax increase to cover $115 million in debt for the construction of a new courthouse.

Commissioners, however, decided to go a different route. Commission Vice Chairman Don Martin proposed, instead of a property tax increase, to pay for it with a new quarter-cent county sales tax that’ll be placed on the ballot in November. If ratified, the tax would start in April and wouldn’t apply to gas and grocery purchases. The tax is opposed by Commissioners Everette Witherspoon and Fleming El-Amin, who’ve argued that it’ll adversely affect low-income people, and both have expressed doubt voters would ratify it.

“It’s so regressive,” said Witherspoon.

In North Carolina, 31 counties have successfully passed a quarter-cent sales tax, while 38 counties have had voters reject it. Not implementing a property tax increase this year means that if the sales tax doesn’t pass, the county would need to have a 3.1 cents property tax increase next year to pay for courthouse debt. The county property tax is currently 72.35 cents per $100 of property value.

The elimination of the property tax increase, which would’ve brought in $8.2 million for debt service, actually reduced the budget to $426 million, even after commissioners added numerous items to it.

Commissioners agreed with Watts’ recommendations for using $439,038 in budget reserve to add numerous positions, including a court security deputy, a social worker, two senior social workers, a senior social worker supervisor, a library assistant for the new Kernersville Library, five part-time library tech pages along with $50,000 to help the Public Health Department with septic tank inspections and $15,000 to replace equipment for the Lewisville Dive Rescue team, a countywide water rescue team.

The rest of the additions come from the county’s fund balance. Commissioner suggestions that made it into the proposed budget included $56,436 for the creation of a new external communications office with one full-time employee. Other additions included $20,000 for the county to absorb the administrative cost of the Safe on Seventh domestic violence program and $15,000 for a surgical suite at the animal shelter.

Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt advocated for $275,000 for a new ambulance, which the county plans to pay for with money outside the budget’s general fund.

Most additions to the budget were greatly reduced from their original request. Witherspoon liked requests for $1 million for an additional team for Nurse/Family Partnership and $590,427 for eight new school nurses. Martin said he was willing to pay for two nurses total, which reduced the additional funding that either program could have to $150,000. Witherspoon chose to focus on the Nurse/Family Partnership and ended up with $175,000 for one nurse and support staff.

Nonprofits, which made appeals to commissioners during the budget hearing held on Monday, were also added. SHARE Cooperative of Winston-Salem, an IDR initiative that’s trying to open up a co-op grocery store in a food desert on Peters Creek Parkway, got $5,000, which is far below its request of $200,000. Carter G. Woodson School, which requested $50,000, got $10,000 through Cooperative Extension, so the county could avoid directly giving money to a charter school. RiverRun Film Festival got $15,000. Kaleideum got an additional $25,000 for operating expenses, bringing the total it receives from the county for operations to $275,000. Children’s Law Center received an additional $10,000, increasing its total county funding to $35,000. Family Services got $25,000 for its Pediatric Holistic Health Initiative.

Several commissioners expressed interest in supporting an attempt by the Shalom Project’s Peters Creek Community Initiative to turn the Budget Inn property on Peters Creek into an affordable housing development but decided to do so later, possibly in conjunction with the city. There were no funds to match the city’s $35,000 for drug court. There was no discussion of the county’s shortfall in funding the construction of the new Kaleideum museum.

Martin expressed support on Tuesday for most of the add-ons before he left for another meeting. After that, the other commissioners made adjustments and came to a consensus on the additions. Commissioners will vote on the budget during their 2 p.m. meeting today and it’ll go into effect on July 1.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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