A letter from Halifax County commissioners supporting the efforts of Roanoke Rapids City Council to seek legislative approval of a referendum for voters to decide on a 1-cent sales tax increase in November has been released.
The letter, dated January 15, and signed by Chairman Vernon Bryant, was sent to the North Carolina General Assembly and also includes a copy of the city’s resolution.
Bryant said this afternoon the letter was specifically sent to Representative Michael Wray and Senator Toby Fitch as well as Roanoke Rapids Mayor Emery Doughtie and the county board of commissioners.
County support of the proposal comes in the third and last paragraph of the letter after the county explained in the second paragraph the county does not expect it would receive a proportionate increase in its sales tax income as the city’s resolution states. “The county does not understand or expect that to be the case,” the letter says.
The second paragraph explains, “Based upon additional information from the city, it is proposed that the desired additional sales and use tax would be subject to voter approval in the city of Roanoke Rapids only and if approved would be levied by the city council on sales only in the city of Roanoke Rapids.”
Bryant said county commissioners and staff are still exploring whether the county will receive any benefit.
The letter concludes, saying, “Nonetheless, by action of the Halifax County Board of Commissioners, I am authorized to advise you that Halifax County supports the efforts of the city of Roanoke Rapids to obtain an additional one-cent local option sales and use tax applicable only in the city of Roanoke Rapids.”
Doughtie said this afternoon said he understands the paragraph which refutes whether the county would see a proportionate increase should the proposal get on the ballot and gain voter approval. “What I told Mr. (County Attorney Glynn) Rollins whatever needs to be done to make it move forward I’m open to obtain input from other entities. We have a problem and we are limited to how we can fix it.”
However, the mayor said, “I’m glad they are supporting us. We need their support. I want them to feel whatever benefits the city benefits the community at large.”
Doughtie said next month state lawmakers are expected to go back in session. “Once it goes to Michael he knows the corridors to get it to the floor.”
The mayor said the city will hold off on forums until the legislature votes to allow a referendum be put on the ballot. “If it doesn’t go anywhere we won’t need to have the forums.”
Of the people Doughtie has talked to about the matter, he said 80 percent to 90 percent have been positive. “Others that have been negative, once you explain what we do with the money, what few resources we have to get income, it seems to make the conversation move forward.”
The money generated from the sales tax increase, if it should pass in a referendum by voters only within the city limits, would be used to pay off the remaining Roanoke Rapids Theatre debt, allowing the city to allocate other money to infrastructure improvements. “Resurfacing roads, repairing culverts have been on the backburner,” Doughtie said. “We struggle with equipment, maintenance.”
Bryant said, “We think that the mayor and Roanoke Rapids City Council are trying to move forward from the sale of the theater and in doing so we feel they have done the right thing and have been diligent in restructuring the debt while at the same time maintaining services.”
The board of commissioner chair said, “On behalf of the Halifax County Board of Commissioners, we certainly hope the North Carolina General Assembly in its infinite wisdom will allow the citizens of Roanoke Rapids to vote on this matter. None of us like tax increases whether property or sales. With sales tax everyone is included. If there’s going to be a tax this is the one to do.”
Bryant credited the city for making a sale on the theater and for looking “at ways of moving forward without burdening the taxpayers. The board of commissioners feels good about the position the city has taken in retiring the debt of the theater. They have asked us to support the sales tax which will not burden the property owners but will be shared by everyone including visitors.”