If the Scotland County commissioners expect to gain voter approval for a sales tax increase, they may have to do a little retail politicking of their own.
The board voted unanimously earlier this week to let voters decide the issue.
What we know so far is that the initiative is likely be on the ballot this Nov. 6 and would give the board the authority to add one quarter of a cent to the current sales tax of 6.75 cents per dollar. Two cents of that sales tax currently goes to the county. If approved, it could take effect April 1, 2013.
Scotland would join about 15 other counties, including nearby Robeson and Cumberland, with sales tax rates at 7 percent.
The tax would not apply to most non-prepared food items, prescription drugs, gasoline, vehicle purchases or utilities payments. Anyone making a purchase of $100 in taxable goods, would pay about 25 cents under the proposed tax.
Board Chairman Bob Davis said most of the feedback he has gotten on the issue has been positive.
The response from Laurinburg Exchange readers has been slightly different. There has not been a great deal of comment, but a handful of readers told us that they are opposed to anything that includes the words tax and increase.
But we agree with the county that the proposed tax increase is a more palatable alternative to other means of revenue sourcing. The tax, which is expected to raise about $600,000 in annual revenue, would be paid by all consumers. That is not the case with the $1.03 property tax.
It would also help shore up our meager fund balance so we are more fiscally sound. The state says Scotland County’s unrestricted fund balance should be 8 percent of the total budget — or $3.2 million. The unrestricted budget last year stood at $1.4 million.
The sales tax increase seems a lot less painful way of getting our financial house in order.
Our only suggestion is that we might have some assurances on how the money will be spent. Some municipal boards across country have decided not to make their tax increases open ended and have set a “sunset” date of five years for them to end.
A similar tax increase was approved by Orange County last year and became effective this April. The new tax has raised $228,952.89 to date.
But along with the tax increase came a special fund to allow for accurate accounting of revenues and expenditures related specifically to the quarter-cent sales tax.
The Board of County Commissioners there also approved a 10-year commitment to distribute 50 percent of the proceeds to the county’s two school systems and 50 percent to economic development initiatives.
While our needs may be different from Orange County, voters desire for accountability is the same. Scotland voters may be more inclined to vote in the affirmative if they had a better understanding of not only why the tax was needed, but how money was spent and for how long.