Orange County quarter-cent tax passes with 60 percent approval

A controversial tax increase passed Tuesday will help provide funding for local schools that struggled to absorb millions in state funding cuts this year.

The quarter-cent sales tax referendum received about 60 percent approval — or more than 10,700 votes — according to the unofficial results.

The same referendum failed by slightly more than 1,000 votes last year, but the county put the referendum on the ballot again, saying lack of voter education was the reason it originally failed.
The quarter-cent increase is expected to bring in about $2.5 million in revenue to be split evenly between education and economic development.

“Because of the budget cuts schools felt from state level, it was vital we do this as soon as possible,” said Bernadette Pelissier, chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools received about $6.2 million in state budget reductions this year, which they absorbed in part by dipping into their savings.

Town Councilwoman Penny Rich said the funds could be used to update technology in schools.

“We want to make sure our children are ready for the future.”
The county will use the $1.25 million for economic development to diversify the tax base and increase development — areas where officials say the county lags.

About 60 percent of the funding will be used to develop infrastructure, while the remaining money will be used for a revolving loan fund and other efforts.

“It’s not a tremendous amount, but it’s a start,” Rich said.
And the road leading up to Tuesday’s approval has been long.
The John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank based in the Triangle, and the Orange County Republican Party opposed the tax increase this year.

Stephen Xavier, director of public relations and media for the Orange County Republican Party, said the county broke state law through its one-sided educational campaign for the tax.

This year, the county increased its educational budget to $50,000 to help inform residents, but Xavier said it couldn’t legally promote the tax with public funds.

Xavier said he also thinks the vote wasn’t representative of the rural population because the tax was put on the ballot when rural parts of the county weren’t holding municipal elections.

Councilman Matt Czajkowski, who was re-elected Tuesday, said he supports the tax but wanted to see it on the ballot in a later election.

“It’s disingenuous to think a person in northern Orange County will get in their car and drive for one issue,” he said.

Pelissier said the county will not immediately see an impact from the increase and will most likely not receive revenue from the tax until they begin the budget process in April.

“It’s an investment which will pay off in the long run,” she said.

Staff Writer Conor Furlong contributed to reporting.

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