BEAUFORT — Though the measure has already failed twice in recent years, the county is moving forward with introducing a local sales tax referendum on the November ballot.
The Carteret County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in support of the referendum Monday during its regular monthly meeting at the courthouse complex. The board did not establish the exact wording of the question to appear on the November ballot, but its action directed staff to finalize the details for board review before the Wednesday, Aug. 5 deadline to submit a referendum to the Carteret County Board of Elections.
If the referendum passes in November, the local sales tax rate would be raised by a quarter of a percent, from 6.75% to 7%. The state’s base sales tax rate is 4.75% and the current local rate adds an additional 2%.
County Manager Tommy Burns noted the tax would generate an estimated $3.6 million annually, and the board discussed potential uses for the additional revenue. The board was in favor of using the tax for two main purposes: waterway management and to fund capital needs or debt service for Carteret County Public Schools.
This is not the first time the county has attempted to the raise the local sales tax in recent years. A similar referendum appeared on the ballot in the November 2016 and November 2014 general elections, but it failed both times.
According to state elections data, about 68% of residents voted against the measure in 2014. More voters were amenable to the idea in 2016, but it still did not pass, with about 57% against the referendum.
In both elections, the county spent funds on materials informing residents of the ballot question. However, the county cannot directly campaign for the initiative, so in 2016 a private group pushed for the measure.
On Monday, the board of commissioners discussed a possible split of the revenue that would generated by the additional tax, whether it be 50/50 or some other division. Commissioner Robin Comer recommended putting a $5 million cap on the waterway management fund, but other commissioners disagreed.
In years past, the county proposed the sales tax be used exclusively for waterway management, including dredging projects.
Finance Director Dee Meshaw said about 50% of sales tax revenues are raised by non-Carteret County residents, which some board members said is a benefit of the potential tax.
“I’ve never heard an argument against it, the sales tax is a pretty fair tax because everyone pays it,” Commissioner Robin Comer said. “In Carteret County, because of the tourism flow and the second (homeowners) here, we’re fortunate enough that probably somewhere between 50 to 60 percent of it comes from outside the county, the folks inside the county aren’t paying it.”
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.