ELKIN — Surry County Commissioners went all in with their support of proposed sales tax legislation which could create revenue for school capital projects.
The Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in support of N.C. Senate Bill 166 and House Bill 333, while holding its meeting on Monday in the media center at Elkin High School.
Commissioner Larry Phillips has led the charge to get legislation on the floor of the General Assembly in Raleigh that would redefine the allowed use of an Article 43 sales tax. Phillips made a presentation before reading the resolution in support of the legislation, which was approved unanimously by commissioners.
Phillips explained Surry County is staring at more than $170 million in needed projects to improve the campuses of schools in all three of the county’s school systems. For the past 30 years combined, the county has only spent $171 million on school facility needs.
Though the county has identified a way to borrow $60 million in coming years to address the needs of the Elkin, Mount Airy and Surry County Schools, more funding will be necessary if all of the projects identified in three studies are to be addressed.
Phillips spoke at length about the shortcomings of a plan to fund school capital needs by way of the N.C. Education Lottery.
“Last year Surry County got $2.2 million from the lottery to pay for non-teaching personnel and $754,000 to fund school construction,” said Phillips.
Phillips explained when the Education Lottery was approved, state officials promised 40 percent of the profits to school capital funding. That happened only in the first year. After that, it dropped to nine percent being put toward capital needs.
Even the funds that are shelled out are going to other areas of the state, said Phillips. Last year, Wake County received $10 million in lottery funding, while 40 of the poorest counties in the state received only a combined $11 million.
Phillips looked to the Article 43 sales tax as a means to generate needed revenue for school capital.
Under current state statute, the tax may be levied by a county and put toward use in the area of public transportation.
“We don’t have a public transportation challenge here in Surry County,” said Phillips in explaining the legislation would free the dollars for use in paying for school construction or for paying debt associated with school construction.
Surry County does not levy the Article 43 tax, and the legislation would require the voters in a county to approve the tax, which can be up to one-half of a cent on every dollar.
In Surry County a half-cent sales tax would generate about $4 million annually, said Phillips.
Phillips has worked with N.C. Sen. Shirley Randleman to bring the senate bill to the stage it is now — in the Senate Rules Committee. He said he continues to speak with Randleman, and is hopeful the bill will make it to a vote and be passed.
“I think property owners have been soaked in taxes enough,” said Chairman Eddie Harris. “A sales tax is a more equitable means of funding these needs.”
He added sales tax in Surry County is a reliable means of funding. In Wilkes County, for instance, each quarter-cent on the dollar only raises about $500,000. In Surry County, the same percentage generates about $2 million.
The House bill, which would allow counties to also use the funding to cover some operational expenses associated with schools was filed by N.C. Rep. Susan Martin, who represents Pitt and Wilson Counties.
The resolution will be sent to Surry County’s delegation in the General Assembly, Randleman and N.C. Rep. Sarah Stevens.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.