The Orange County Board of Commissioners is redesigning a plan for informing residents about the importance of a sales tax increase.
After voters rejected the quarter-cent sales tax increase in November by a 51-49 percent margin, commissioners are considering revisiting the issue in hopes of avoiding an increase in property taxes.
Commissioner Chairwoman Bernadette Pelissier said the primary reason the increase failed was because residents did not have the right information, especially in the county’s rural areas that are more skeptical of tax increases.
“We didn’t have a good time window in order to educate citizens about how the sales taxes would work,” she said.
While talking to residents after last year’s election, Pelissier said she found many people who said they would have changed their votes had they been better informed.
For example, she said many residents were concerned their grocery bills would increase, but the tax would not affect these items.
“We need to do a better job of educating people about where the county budget is going to in general,” Pelissier said.
She said there are not yet concrete plans on how the board will better inform the public. The board will hold a second public hearing on April 6 to garner more resident input before deciding whether to include the referendum on this year’s ballot.
Retired resident John Hinson said he would vote for a second time should the referendum make the ballot.
“We cannot afford a quarter of a cent,” Hinson said, “Social security has not gone up in two years, and they want to raise taxes.”
Hinson said, he doesn’t think the county needs the money as much as they say they do.
“They didn’t sound like they needed the money,” he said. “They were looking for projects to use it on.”
Pelissier said the annual $2.5 million the sales tax is projected to generate would be split between economic development, education, libraries and emergency services.
Economic development and education were both slated to receive 42.5 percent of the tax revenue from last year’s referendum, although the percentages associated with the latest effort aren’t finalized.
Economic Development Director Gary Shope said he hoped the revenue from the tax increase would allow future construction projects to be sustainable.
He said the county needs to invest in long-term infrastructure projects.
“We have to have a vehicle to be able to support the funding for the major work,” he said.
If the increase fails again, Shope said the county’s other options include raising the property tax or developing utility districts.
But, because state cuts have not come in yet, Pelissier said it is difficult for commissioners to make alternative plans.
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