They say there’s never any harm in asking but one ask of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners by small town officials is unlikely to get a “yes” answer – at least not any year soon.
But, again, you can’t fault a man, or a town, for asking.
Some leaders in Stokesdale and other towns in Guilford County have requested that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners reconsider a decade and a half old decision that angered many small town leaders when it happened: a controversial 2003 move by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to change the way sales tax proceeds were distributed in the county.
Sales tax money collected in Guilford County goes to the state and, is distributed back to the county and municipalities based on a method determined by the county commissioners. There are two ways that can be done: based on population or based on the property tax rate. The higher the property tax rate the greater proportion of the sales tax money the county, city or town receives.
Until 2003, Guilford County distributed the money on a per capita basis – that is, each jurisdiction got a percentage of the pool based on its population. Then the county changed the way it was done.
Under the property tax method now in place, the county distributes that money based on the amount of property tax a town or city levies. The higher the taxes relative to the county and other municipalities, the more sales tax proceeds a town or city gets. That means that small towns with low property taxes get only a small piece of the sales tax pie and Stokesdale, which has no property tax, gets no sales tax pie at all.
Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who represents an area that includes three towns – Stokesdale, Oak Ridge and Summerfield – said he’s been getting the request for the board to make the change and he added that the board might consider changing the method back at some point in the future.
“I don’t disagree with the philosophy of the request,” Conrad said. “I don’t disagree that what happened in 2003 was wrong for the small towns.”
One big reason the Board of Commissioners is unlikely to grant the request: It would cost the county a great deal of money. Guilford County Budget Director Mike Halford said this week that he hadn’t run the numbers in recent years but he said it would certainly mean millions less in revenue for the county.
“The county’s share would drop under a per capita distribution,” Halford said.
Conrad said that, because Guilford County is paying down a big bond debt that the current Republican-led board inherited, right now isn’t the time for Guilford County to make the switch. He said Guilford County needs the money to pay off that debt. Conrad added that, in a few years when some of that debt is paid down, the conversation would be more appropriate.
Stokesdale Town Councilmember Bill Jones, who’s stepping down from his seat on the Town Council because he’s moving out of town, said a major injustice was done 15 years ago and its now time that the county right that wrong and reinstate the former distribution method. He said he and others in Stokesdale and in other towns hurt by the 2003 move have sought help from state representatives. Jones said he and another Stokesdale office had gone to Raleigh and met with state representatives in an attempt to get a change in the law that would allow towns with no property tax to get at least a quarter of a percent of the sales tax proceeds that came to the county.
Commissioner Skip Alston, who was chairman of the Board of Commissioners at the time the change went into effect, said he remembers very well how mad elected officials of small towns were when the county went to an ad valorem method. Alston said that, while it certainly angered many, it was the right move for the county.
“It was done to make taxes more fair,” Alston said, adding that he doesn’t support the request to change it back.
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Alan Branson also said he can’t see the board supporting the change. He said many small towns only provide limited service to residents.
“If they are going to get the money, they need to provide the services,” he said, adding that they don’t do things like inspect buildings or provide law enforcement.
“Everybody wants to do the minimal piece that they can,” he said of towns.
Branson said a town like Pleasant Garden, for instance, does fund and operate a community center but it basically relies on county services for most everything else.
In a recent look at counties across the state, 47 use the property tax method for sales tax distribution while 53 use per capita allocation.