Orange County voters who struck down a quarter-cent sales tax increase in November may have won the battle but not the war.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing Tuesday night to discuss reintroducing the sales tax referendum in this year’s election.
Commissioner Pam Hemminger said the county, which relies heavily on sales taxes, should focus on advertising what the money will be used for and on reaching out to those in fiscally conservative, rural areas.
“You say the word tax, and people have an adverse reaction,” she said. “When they start understanding that everyone will be paying the tax, they may become more supportive.”
Still, many stood firm in their opposition to an increase in taxes of any kind at Tuesday’s hearing.
Hillsborough resident Greg Andrews, who unsuccessfully ran for the board of commissioners in the fall, offered suggestions on other ways to stimulate the economy.
“Supporting new businesses should be a focus,” he said. “When we are honest with ourselves, we offer our citizens very little in terms of shopping centers and restaurants.”
Last year’s increase was defeated 51 to 49 percent, with the majority of opposition coming from northern parts of the county.
Bonnie Hauser, who represented the Orange County Voice Board of Directors, said the county spends too much money on non-essential capital projects.
“Times have changed,” she said. “There’s more to do in order to align the county’s spending to our economic reality.”
Commissioner Barry Jacobs said the failure resulted from the county’s failure to advertise the importance of the sales tax increase, which would have been an alternative to a property tax increase.
The county spent a little less than $40,000 publicizing the increase last year.
“We started publicizing it late,” Jacobs said. “We did not solicit or get the endorsement of the Democratic Party, which would have been helpful.”
He said the referendum still stands a chance if the county can convey the need for the annual $2.5 million the tax would raise.
Hillsborough resident Ed Flowers, who supports the referendum, argued that the increase is trivial.
“You would have to spend $4 to pay one penny of tax, and $400 to spend one dollar,” he said.
Commissioner Earl McKee said he would like the referendum placed on the ballot in the 2012 primary election rather than November’s municipal elections, when not all county precincts will be open for voting.
Commissioners voted unanimously to continue discussion of the referendum at their April 5 meeting, when they will vote on whether or not to place it on the November ballot.
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