Sales tax increase passes by 980 votes
By Lee Barnes
Rowan voters decided Tuesday that they could afford an additional one-fourth cent of sales tax, even in a down economy.
Voters approved the tax by a vote of 5,263 to 4,283, or about 55 percent.
The turnout represented a fraction under 11 percent of registered voters, and about 7 percent of the county’s total population.
The impact of the tax increase on buyers will be minimal. The new tax will add 25 cents to buying a $100 pair of shoes; a $500 computer will cost an additional $1.25.
The current sales tax is 7.75 percent, meaning that the overall sales tax in Rowan will be an even 8 cents on the dollar.
The tax is not final until the Rowan County Commissioners formally approve it.
The county will use the money to pay for a new jail annex and a federally mandated telecommunications system. The jail will cost $6 million; the radio system will cost $12 million.
The new tax is projected to raise the money over the course of 10 years.
Rowan, like all other counties, must upgrade its emergency telecommunications system by the year 2013. The system includes the radios used by deputies, firefighters, EMS personnel, emergency dispatchers, and other county workers such as building inspectors.
The cost of the new system isn’t just for the more than 1,000 new digital radios. To get full radio coverage, officials say the county will need as many as three new radio towers, in addition to the one now in use.
If voters had rejected the tax increase, the county would have either had to raise property taxes, or cut $2 million from the budget.
Voter Mamie Anderson didn’t hesitate to vote for the tax.
“We need more jails,” said the Thomas Street resident. “We need to keep these bad people off the streets.”
She added that she’s on a fixed income but she’s willing to shell out the extra so the county can build a jail.
A handful of voters who turned out at the Granite Quarry Municipal Building and Rowan Public Library appeared to be evenly split on the tax issue.
Wayne Carter, who worked for Freightliner for 14 years before being laid off, voted against the tax.
“They need to learn to live within their means. I lost my job in May,” Carter said, adding he has been forced to live on one-third of what he was making. “They need to cut back, too. Everybody is hurting. We’re taxed to death.”
Gilbert Russell, another Granite Quarry resident, was of a different mind.
“This is the best way to raise the money … everybody pays,” said Russell.
Rowan has been typical of the nation’s economic malaise. To balance the budget this year, the county cut 16 jobs and froze five more. At the same time, county revenue from sales taxes, building permits and recording fees has also slumped.
County Commissioner Tina Hall said she thought voters would vote for the tax.
“There’s a strong need for revenue,” she said. “Tonight voters raised the funds to make the jail annex a reality.”
Jesse Burchette contributed to this story.