Before you go out and spend anywhere from $750 million to $1 billion, probably the first thing you do is figure out how to get your hands on that kind of money.
And, right now, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners is asking itself that very question – since there’s a great deal of agreement among Guilford County commissioners and Guilford County School officials that that amount is needed for a first-round of school repairs, construction and other school capital projects.
In 2008, the county provided funding for a similar giant school facilities project package through a school bond referendum totaling over $600 million and now citizens are almost certain to see some sort of massive school funding method – or methods – on the ballot in November 2020.
The current Board of Commissioners, however, has a strong aversion to raising property taxes, and the board is looking at putting a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot in November, one that would likely go along with a bond referendum of major proportions.
Since the discussion of paying to fund new school projects began last year, Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson and several other commissioners have said that a sales tax option as a form of school funding may be the best method since, that way, some of the cost will be borne by those passing through the county as well as those who rent property but don’t own any.
According to information presented to the board this month, a quarter-cent increase in the county’s sales tax could bring in about $19 million every year under current economic conditions.
However, the commissioners also discussed some potential drawbacks during their recent work session on school funding options. For one thing, unlike a school bond referendum, the purpose of the funds raised through a sales tax increase can’t be included on the ballot. It’s true that the Board of Commissioners can adopt and publicize a resolution stating the way the county intends to use the proceeds, however, that wouldn’t be binding to future boards and some people will point out the fact that the State of North Carolina has used proceeds from the NC Education Lottery for other purposes over the years despite its promises when the lottery was approved.
That could hurt the chance of passing a sales tax increase – which must get voter approval, and which also has been voted down multiple times in Guilford County.
The language on the ballot for a sales tax increase is set by state law: It is a “For” or “Against” checkbox followed by, “Local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter percent (0.25%) in addition to all other State and local sales and use taxes.”
The commissioners were also informed at the work session that the increase would not apply to some items such as motor vehicles, prescription drugs and gasoline.
In order to be included on the November ballot, the board will have to notify the local and state boards of elections by Monday, Aug. 3. If the commissioners move forward on the funding method and the voters approve the measure, the collection of the new sales taxes in Guilford County would begin on April 1, 2021.