Committee touts benefit of quarter-cent referendum
Max Walser looks at the May 6 quarter-cent sales tax referendum for construction of a high school in a way that Davidson County folks will understand.
Buy a hot dog special for $4 and pay one-cent in additional sales tax, or, if you are among the 1,600 farmers in the county, pay hundreds of dollars each year in additional property taxes.
The quarter-cent sales tax, said Walser, is logical, sensible and more practical than a two to three-cent property increase on top of the county's 54-cent tax rate.
The Davidson County Commissioners appointed Walser to form a committee to educate voters on the referendum. Walser enlisted former Davidson County Superintendent Dr. Fred Mock.
Mock and Walser, also a former Davidson County superintendent, reiterate that an additional high school will have to be built either by sales tax or property tax.
"The Board of Education does not have a choice," said Mock. "We're dealing with significant urban sprawl from High Point and Winston. It's not going to stop."
According to Walser and Mock, North Davidson was built for 1,100 students. Enrollment is now up to 1,300. Ledford was built for 800 students with the population now at 1,300.
Between the two high schools, 85 trailers are utilized to relieve the overcrowding, but even that's not enough. A brochure developed by the Committee shows North Davidson students sitting on a hallway floor, where a class is being held.
Davidson County Finance Department estimated that the quarter-cent sales tax could generate about $2.3 million annually. Construction of a high school is normally about $45 million.
The wording of the referendum does not specify that the sales tax would be used for capital needs at schools, but if approved, Walser and Mock feel confident that the Board of Commissioners will designate the proceeds for that purpose — and that includes capital needs at Thomasville City Schools.
"We know there are needs in Thomasville and we can't meet them until the elephant is out of the room," Walser said of the overcrowding at North Davidson and Ledford.
Walser and Mock feel that Davidson County voters will see that approval of the referendum is the solution to school needs, however they are aware of the task to gain voter support.
According to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners website, 92 referendums on a quarter-cent sales tax had been held in 59 counties from November 2007 to November 2013. Twenty-six were approved and 66 failed.
In 2013 votes, a quarter-cent sales tax referendum in Harnett County was approved by 70 percent, but Yadkin County's failed by 58 percent. Harnett County planned to utilize the tax for school construction and Yadkin County to reduce its property tax rate.
Randolph County approved a 2010 quarter-cent sales tax referendum by 54 percent. The money was designated for Randolph Community College.
Walser has experience when it comes to promoting referendums. He chaired committees on two school bonds — 1992 and 2005 — that voters approved. Those bond issues benefitted the county’s three public school systems and Davidson County Community College.
Walser and the Committee have taken several steps to educate the community about the vote.
They have developed a brochure funded by Thomasville, Lexington and North Davidson chambers of commerce, Davidson Progress and the Economic Development Commission. The brochure will be distributed at schools and is posted on the Committee’s Facebook page, Davidson County Strong for Education.
The referendum has received endorsements from the county's three school systems, chambers of commerce, as well as individual members of the Board of Commissioners. The Committee plans to seek endorsements from cities throughout the county.
Early voting at the Thomasville Public Library will run from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. April 24 through May 2 and from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 3.
The current sales tax rate in Davidson County is 6.75 percent. If the referendum is approved, the sales tax would increase to 7 percent.
According to Zeb Hanner, assistant county manager, the $2.3 million revenue projected from the quarter-cent sales tax would be sustainable.
"We bottomed out a few years ago, when [the state] shifted the distribution method from per capita to point of sale," he said. "That's why we had the 'Buy Local' campaign."
He offered this example. If you shop in Greensboro, that city gets to keep the sales tax.
On the other hand, sales tax revenue is generated from tourism.
"Somebody else is helping you to pay for the school," he added.