Quarter-cent sales tax campaign to reach out at candidates forum

A group advocating a quarter-cent sales tax referendum will make its presence known at a Chapel Hill candidates forum tonight.

The Campaign for Jobs and Schools committee, which started meeting in July this year, was formed to reach out to county voters to increase support for the proposed quarter-cent sales tax.

Residents will be able to vote for or against the tax — which would be split between schools and economic development — on the Nov. 8 ballot.

During the past few months committee representatives, including government officials and residents, have attended PTA meetings, football games and town-sponsored events, including this weekend’s Festifall.

Penny Rich, co-chairwoman of the committee and a Chapel Hill Town Council member, said the group wasn’t satisfied by education about the tax last year.

When the tax appeared on the ballot last November, it failed by about 1,000 votes.

Because the Orange County Board of Commissioners is restricted from advocating for any issue on a ballot, the committee chose to advocate for the tax.

“This is something we really need for our schools,” Rich said. “It is a big education push.”

She said schools need funding to update their technology.

But the committee’s campaign isn’t sitting well with some.

Mark Marcoplos, a member of the Orange County Planning Board, said he understands the tax’s benefits, but said the information provided by the county isn’t detailed or transparent enough.

“The number of questions I have right now are outweighing my decision to vote ‘Yes’,” he said.

Assistant County Manager Gwen Harvey said commissioners are doing all they can to educate the county and answer voters’ questions.

The board launched its education campaign at the end of August — a month earlier than last year.

To fund the early start, the board also increased the campaign budget by $10,000 when it approved $50,000 in public funds for the campaign.

Marcoplos said the results of the election on the referendum could show a skewed representation of support.

Marcoplos said some rural areas in the county aren’t holding local elections and have only the tax referendum to vote for — and voters in those places won’t have an incentive to go to the polls.

“This vote is going to be one more thing that exacerbates the rural-urban friction,” he said.

Marcoplos said putting the referendum on the ballot again this year is an unfair way of making sure the tax goes into effect.

“It’s a mistake by the county manager and the county commissioners to think that the ends justify the means,” he said.

But Rich said the future of the county’s schools and businesses should be incentive enough for everyone to vote.

“This is local money. It has local power,” she said.

“We want to better our schools, and we need to start collecting this money now.”

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