Quarter-cent sales tax headed for Macon ballot

Quarter-cent sales tax headed for Macon ballot

Macon County residents will see the quarter-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot this November after commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to put the decision to voters again. 

“Leave it in the hands of the people,” said Commissioner Danny Antoine.

When the Macon County Commission began its budget process earlier this year, commissioners raised the issue of the quarter-cent sales tax, which is estimated to generate about $2.4 million for the county annually.

“If we get the quarter-cent, we could essentially drop our mill rate by two mills,” said Commissioner Josh Young. “I think it’s a strong point to make to the people that we could collect funds from pass-through revenue and offset our local mill rate by two cents and keep all our CIP [capital improvement plan] fully funded.” 

If approved, the quarter-cent sales tax would apply to anyone purchasing goods in Macon County — residents, as well as visitors — and would apply to all items other than unprepared food and gas.

In North Carolina, all counties have the option to levy a quarter-cent sales tax. According to the legislation, the sales tax can be implemented on the first day of any calendar quarter as long as the county gives the N.C. Department of Revenue at least 90 days advance notice. If a referendum is held in November during the General Election and passes, the earliest a county could begin collecting the revenue would be April 1 of the following year, provided it adopts a resolution levying the tax and forwards it to the Department of Revenue prior to December 31.

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A referendum to implement the quarter-cent sales tax appeared on the ballot for Macon County voters in 2022. During the General Election, 15,124 people voted; with 8,575 (or 55%) voting against the measure and 6,829 (or 45%) voting in favor.

Even though the referendum failed then, it can legally appear on the ballot again after one year.

“I still feel there is hope in two years when the commissioner board has the opportunity to put the quarter-cent sales tax back on the ballot,” said Commissioner Gary Shields after the first vote. “This was the first for our county and we now have two years to learn from what we/I should have done better to educate our populace.”  

At that time, commissioners and residents in favor of the tax option hoped to use revenues for the new Franklin High School project. However, this year, the county received a $62 million state grant toward the new school.

With the new grant in hand, revenues from the tax are likely to infuse the budget more generally and offset the overall tax burden on Macon residents.

“All that does is give us $2 million more on an annual basis that we don’t have now,” County Manager Derek Roland said during budget discussions. “We can use that to reduce the tax burden on Macon citizens, to help us do more capital projects, however this board see fit to do that.” 

During the regular March meeting of the Macon County Commission, three residents spoke in favor of another vote on the quarter-cent sales tax, in addition to several commissioners.

“If there is such a thing as a fair tax, it’s a sales tax,” said Commissioner John Shearl. “If the will of the people is to increase that sales tax by a quarter of a cent, by all means. The people of Macon County have an option to approve it or not approve it again.” 

The resolution approved by commissioners has been submitted to the board of elections for inclusion on the ballot.

“We don’t have much here in Macon County and our citizens are consistently going to surrounding counties and they’re paying into everybody else’s sales tax,” said Antoine. “It doesn’t make sense for us to not have people that are coming through here not paying into our taxes as well… I’m for it .”

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