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Chapel Hill leaders want tax hike

Trip highlights economic needs

ASHEVILLE – Gaining support for a ballot initiative for a quarter of a cent sales tax increase was among issues local leaders tackled Monday.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce President Aaron Nelson rallied political support and discussed outreach strategies for communicating the Orange County tax increase, which could generate about $2.2 million annually.

The meeting was an unscheduled addition to the 2010 Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s Inter-City Visit. The conference, which drew more than 70 local leaders and continues through this afternoon, brings town, county and University officials together once every two years for the opportunity to work together on economic development issues.

If the sales tax is passed in November’s elections, 15 percent of the revenue would go toward libraries and emergency services, 42.5 percent would go to economic development and the remaining 42.5 percent would go toward the school system.

The increase would raise the current tax rate from 7.75 percent to 8 percent. The rise would not affect food or pharmaceuticals.

“The chamber believes it’s time to invest in economic development, and this will help raise the funds we need to do that,” Nelson said.

Nelson is developing a steering committee to determine how to inspire support for the increase.

In small groups during their visit, leaders discussed priorities and obstacles to economic development, their shared vision and ways to make those visions realities.

“How do we preserve our essence and move economic development forward in Orange County?” Chapel Hill town manager Roger Stancil said, kicking off the conference’s first brainstorming session.

Ideas discussed included increasing cooperation and conversation between towns and developing a brand for the area.

Chapel Hill officials drew advice from Asheville leaders about economic development initiatives, including visitor services, tourism and the arts.

“We might learn from Asheville what we can tack onto,” Town Council member Ed Harrison said.

Asheville’s Buncombe County has nearly twice the size and population of Orange County. While the counties both house UNC-system schools, these differences impact each area’s development strategies.

Elizabeth Read, executive director of the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, said coming to Asheville provided an educational challenge for town leaders.

“In Orange County we know we live in a great place, but it’s easy to look at how great it is without thinking how to be better,” she said. “Trips like these allow us to see what’s going on, and it shakes us up to start thinking about how we can be even better.”

The conference also allowed the town and the University to discuss how they will function together as new strategies for economic development arise.

“The relationship we have is the best it’s been,” Chancellor Holden Thorp said of the University’s relationship with the town. “We have a great opportunity in front of us.”

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