Public speaks on possible quarter-cent tax increase

Public speaks on possible quarter-cent tax increase
September 19
00:15 2019

For the first time since the decision to levy a quarter-cent sales tax was presented by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, last week the public had the opportunity to share their thoughts on the levy that is intended to be used to increase teacher pay across the local school district. 

If approved by county commissioners, the quarter-cent sales tax, which is expected to generate $13 million, will be added to the local ballot during the March 2020 primary election. Earlier this year, representatives with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools let it be known that their goal was to move toward getting local teacher supplement pay among the top five averages in the state. Currently, WS/FCS rank 27th in the state for teacher supplements.

Article 46 of N.C. General Statute 105 gives counties the ability to levy a local quarter-cent sales tax that must be approved by voters in a referendum before it can be adopted by the county. According to Gordon Watkins, county attorney, the ballot question must follow state law and can’t give the purpose for the tax increase. 

A similar referendum which was included on the 2018 ballot did not pass. More than 60% of voters said ‘No’ to the increase. 

“Unfortunately, the ballot language is stated in that statute and we can’t change that,” Watkins said. “The language on the ballot is local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter percent (0.25%) in addition to all other State and local sales and use taxes. We can’t put any more or any less on the ballot.”

Watkins noted if the quarter-cent levy passes, it would not be applied to groceries or gasoline, but would apply to soft drinks, candy, dietary supplements, prepared food, and vending machine sales. And if approved by voters in March 2020, the earliest the tax could become effective is July 1, 2020.

During the public hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 12, more than a dozen educators and others with invested interest in WS/FCS shared their thoughts on the tax levy. Several speakers asked commissioners to remember classified workers in the district when making a decision on the funds that will go toward education.

Classified employees are identified as all “non-licensed positions” within the district, including teacher’s assistants, bus drivers, maintenance workers, custodians, and technology specialists.

“We have other members, not just those in the classroom, who are participating and are valuable members of the education system. We cannot continue to ignore them,” said Rhonda Mays, a school social worker and former president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators.

“We have to make certain that they’re respected because our district cannot run at all without our classified employees in our district. We need to feed the students, we need to get the students to class, to school. We have to have our classified.” 

Jefferey Shu, a language arts teacher at Kernersville Middle School, said the time has come for the county to step up and be competitive. He said when he joined WS/FCS more than 20 years ago, the county ranked fifth in teacher supplements.

“We need to commit to the people that make this county run, classified staff included,” he said.

Allen Daniel, a resident of Clemmons, said the sales tax initiative was disingenuous at best, and irresponsible at worst. He said although the school board does not have taxing authority in the county, the county commissioners have asked the board to get behind the initiative.

“The state of North Carolina does not give taxing authority to school boards. The state funds schools to a certain level and gives responsibility for fully funding schools to the cities and the counties,” Daniel said. “It is the responsibility of this board to adequately fund Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. It is the responsibility of this board to find out how to raise those funds.”

Allen also brought up issues with sales tax. When the economy takes a slide, how the board will make up the difference if the quarter-cent tax doesn’t reach $13 million, and the impact the tax increase will have on those already struggling to make ends meet. He said, “For the past number of years, apparently this board has not adequately funded Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to allow them to keep pace with other districts in the state.

“It is the responsibility of this board to set priorities and to decide what level of taxation the citizens of Forsyth County can bare. The number one problem in this county is poverty; that problem cannot be solved by increasing taxes.”

Longtime community activist Phillip Carter echoed Allen’s sentiments when he spoke to commissioners. Carter said he believes in education, but for some a tax increase will be a burden.

“I’m saddened that the state didn’t fund enough money for teachers. I’m sad that the state didn’t increase the corporate tax rate,” Carter continued. “I will be sad today if we pass this tax increase and not consider the other citizens that might be burdened by it. What harm would we be doing in bringing relief to others?

“I don’t believe in stepping on little toes to climb up.”

School board members Malashai Woodbury, Lida Calvert Hayes and Elizabeth Motsinger, thanked the county commissioners for their support. Angela Pringle Hairston, WS/FCS superintendent, also thanked commissioners and county staff for their hard work. Hairston noted since 2007, the number of teachers across the country has decreased and increased teacher supplements and classified pay is one way the district can ensure they are recruiting the best educators to the area.

“I thank you for finding a way to support our teachers, to support our potential educators, and our existing teachers in our existing ranks to really be able to compete really as a school district,” Hairston said. “Children don’t get do-overs and we want the best in front of our children.”

The Forsyth County Commissioners are expected to make a decision on whether to include the quarter-cent tax levy on the ballot sometime over the next two weeks. County Commissioners meetings are held every Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Forsyth County Government Building, 201 N. Chestnut Street. For more information visit

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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