• 48°

Voters to decide 5th sales tax referendum

For a fifth time Stanly County voters will determine the fate of a sales tax in November.

Voters have rejected a quarter-cent sales tax in the four previous referendums, the first in 2008, one in 2014 and two in 2016. In 2014, the sales tax proceeds were earmarked for public safety and public education. The last three referendums specifically designated the proposed sales tax for public education.

Only this year stakeholders prefer the funds go specifically toward school safety.

SCS Superintendent Jeff James said recent data ranks North Carolina as among the top 10 states at risk for a school shooting.

“I would say we have safe schools, but I would also say I would have never believed our nation is facing the number of school shootings we have seen,” he said via email. “I certainly do not want to see this occur in Stanly County or any county. Thus, the dollars will go directly in improving safety in our schools.”

A quarter-cent sales tax, or 1 penny for every $4 spent, would generate approximately $1.5 million annually in Stanly County.

Security measures James has in mind for SCS are projected to cost much more. He estimates each elementary school would cost $250,000 to implement security precautions. It’s unclear how much of that sum is a one-time versus a recurring expense.

There are 11 elementary schools in the district, including Oakboro Choice STEM.

“Some of the areas identified at the  elementary level also apply to the middle and high schools,” James added, referring to security vestibules. “Some of the concerns at the middle and high involve safety of the mobile units and would be a much bigger project.”

Recurring security expenses already include school resource officers (SRO). SCS presently has seven full-time and one part-time SRO.

SCS and the city of Albemarle equally share the expense of SROs used at city schools. Last year, SCS reimbursed the city $89,675 for SRO expense, James said.

SCS paid Stanly County $405,165 for six SROs last year, or 100 percent of the cost, he added.

As of this year, the city of Locust is funding an SRO at its elementary school. However, SCS secured a grant to reimburse Locust for its costs.

Additional grant proceeds, or $17,000, were allocated toward a part-time SRO at Stanly Academy.

Presently, SROs rotate among other nearby schools or are as needed. The SRO at Albemarle High School assists Central. Albemarle Middle School supports East Albemarle. South Stanly High School aids Norwood. South Stanly Middle helps Aquadale. North Stanly High School rotates with Richfield and Badin. North Stanly Middle assists Millingport. West Stanly High responds to Endy and Oakboro. West Stanly Middle supports Stanfield.

Per the public education designation, the proposed sales tax would go toward initiatives at SCS and Stanly Community College.

In addition to school safety, there are needs in terms of capital projects at both SCS and SCC.

“I am confident the Board of Commissioners will allocate the proceeds to public educational initiatives that address specific areas of concern such as school safety, deferred facility maintenance, technology and enhancing student performance,” said Andy Lucas, county manager.

However, N.C. General Statutes allow a future board of county commissioners to appropriate the funds as it sees fit, which could make voters nervous about supporting the tax.

But Lucas suggested such a move would prove to be costly.

“Altering the purpose for which the funds are designated without a public hearing or some other type of community engagement would most likely erode public trust and make it difficult to pass future voter approved referendums,” Lucas said.

Historically, Stanly voters have been opposed to any type of tax and tax increases given its conservative base.

A sales tax is considered the most fair form of tax, since it applies to everyone. Not only would it impact those locally, but a sales tax would apply to those buying goods or services while visiting the county.

“The sales tax is based on consumption and both residents and non-residents pay the tax,” Lucas said. “As a result, the tax does not solely burden our landowners or businesses.”

Neighboring counties have already implemented an extra sales tax, which Stanly residents are subjected to when they make purchases outside of the county.

Since Stanly County commissioners have been committed to keeping property taxes low in Stanly, many believe an added sales tax could help pay for a number of educational needs.

“I believe the sales tax is critically important given it is not likely the property tax rate will increase in the near future,” Lucas said. “The additional revenue would significantly enhance the county’s capacity to fund educational initiatives.”

Voters will again determine the fate of the sales tax at the polls.

Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or ritchie.starnes@stanlynewspress.com.