A 1-cent sales tax increase which would be subject to state legislative approval for a referendum to be held in the upcoming November election is back on the table and Roanoke Rapids City Council this evening passed a resolution supporting it.
Mayor Emery Doughtie said following the meeting he would expect community forums to be held if state lawmakers give the nod to allowing the city to hold a referendum on the matter.
The resolution supporting the 1-cent sales tax increase within the city limits comes as council still must contend with a $980,000 per year tab on Roanoke Rapids Theatre debt service. Doughtie said the city still has about 12 years of debt service remaining on the building, which was sold to Tom and Evon McLean this year.
Passage of a referendum by city voters would generate approximately $1 million in revenue for the city, money which Doughtie said could be applied toward critical city needs such as stormwater improvements and capital needs.
As the city begins the push for the increase, Doughtie said this time the city has the support of Halifax County.
The handling of its finances could be a plus, he said. “I think the city’s done all we can do. We’ve refinanced the theater debt. We’ve been very frugal. We’re expecting a clean audit report. I think the legislators told us to get a plan together. I think that’s why we went to the county and got the county to support it.”
The last time the city attempted to gain legislative approval for the sales tax increase in 2011, it was taken off the legislative calendar.
As the city struggled with the theater debt before it was refinanced, the mayor said, “People pulled together to not overspend. We’ve got good audits. We’re trying to face it head-on.”
During the meeting, the mayor said, “It’s been looming a long time. We were told years back we had to have support from the county.”
Doughtie said the city is “extremely limited in how we raise dollars. We don’t have water, sewer, utilities or gas. This is a way to make a big difference in our community.”
Councilwoman Suetta Scarbrough, who was absent this evening, wrote a letter which she requested be included in the minutes stating her support on the resolution.
Councilman Wayne Smith made the motion to support the resolution and it was passed by the remainder of council in attendance.
The resolution passed by council says, “The city of Roanoke Rapids has not raised property taxes in over 12 years or sales and use taxes in 16 years and in the last 10 years the inflation rate has increased 16.63 percent.”
The resolution reiterates “the city of Roanoke Rapids has been extremely frugal in its spending and received perfect external audits for the past four years.”
The city’s primary need, the document says, “is to offset the renegotiated loan payment on the Roanoke Rapids Theatre … the expense offset would greatly assist the city with funding availability for such critical needs as economic development funding, capital needs, infrastructure repairs and upgrades, critical capital needs and public safety protection.”
The additional revenue, the document says, would also allow the county to receive a proportionate increase in sales tax income based upon statute tax ratios.
The sales tax, according to the resolution, “would spread the burden among all citizens and regional consumers including I-95 travelers, as opposed to an increase in property taxes on a minority of property owners.”
It does not include taxing automobiles, gasoline, medicine and grocery foods and would have a sunset date of when the theatre loan is paid off.