City wants sales tax increase to be for school safety Council members say voters should make decision on 1-cent hike in 2014

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 7, 2013

SALISBURY — Salisbury City Council has a few suggestions for the one-cent sales tax referendum Rowan County commissioners will request from lawmakers.
Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to make their own request of Rowan County’s legislators: The money generated by the sales tax increase should go to education, and the referendum should be on the ballot in 2014, not this year.
Three times as many voters are likely to go to the polls in 2014 as this year, Mayor Paul Woodson said, increasing the chances of passing the sales tax increase. This is a municipal election year, while the 2014 ballot will include countywide races.
The referendum should go to voters during the countywide election, since the issue impacts all Rowan residents, City Manager Doug Paris said.
Commissioners proposed the one-cent sales tax hike to go hand-in-hand with a cut in the property tax rate of between two and four cents per $100 valuation.
City Council agreed that could be a good idea but doubted voters would pass the ballot initiative without a specific cause to benefit from the extra revenue.
The city had public support last year for its own two-cent property tax increase, which included a penny for public safety and a penny for road paving.
Past tax increase referendums for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and public safety radios passed.
County commissioners said Monday a quarter of the proposed sales tax increase would be reserved for capital projects like buildings and equipment.
“I’m concerned that the purpose of the current referendum is too vague, and the General Assembly and voters may not support it,” Paris said.
He suggested, and City Council agreed, to ask that the entire tax increase go toward public education, and not bricks and mortar. The city wants the penny earmarked for classrooms, curriculum and school security, including more school resource officers.
The money can help teachers become more effective with smaller class sizes and better instructional tools, Paris said. Hiring more school resource officers also will have broad public support, he said.
“As your manager, I recommend that we communicate to our local delegation in Raleigh and specifically request that any local sales tax referendum be placed on the ballot with the highest voter turnout,” Paris said.
Also, the tax increase should go to the sole purposes of public school safety and classroom and curriculum improvements, he said.
“That’s something the community can rally behind,” said Paris, who suggested the city ask county commissioners to endorse the request.
The commissioners said they would share the sales tax proceeds with Rowan’s municipalities.
Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy warned that if Rowan County cuts its property tax rate, people may expect Salisbury to do the same.
“Where are we going to come up with that money,” he asked.
City Council went into closed session Tuesday to discuss an economic development matter, as allowed by state law, and recessed the meeting to 11 a.m. Monday in City Hall, 217 S. Main St.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.