One item that will be on the ballot for Guilford County voters to decide in November is a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax.

At the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, Thursday, Aug. 27 work session, many commissioners openly expressed their aggravation over the fact that a group of prominent business leaders in the community didn’t sound like they were going to get behind the move and push for the sales tax increase.

The sales tax hike is on the ballot to help the county pay back a $300 million school bond referendum that will be on that same ballot.

The group, “Invest in GCS” [Guilford County Schools], is made up of business and community leaders who will be spearheading the campaign to convince citizens to pass the $300 million school bond.

The commissioners looked sour when Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing informed the board that the group would be campaigning for the school bonds but not for the sales tax hike.

“There’s a private business group that will be promoting the school bonds,” Lawing said during the August 27 meeting. “They will not be promoting the quarter-cent sales tax. That puts the burden squarely on the county and schools.”

The county commissioners were clearly distressed to hear that. They wanted the names of the group’s members.

Lawing said he didn’t know who all was in the group but he said Marlene Sanford, the president of Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition (TREBIC) was one, and, he believed, some people on the board of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce were also involved.

Commissioner Justin Conrad was only one of the commissioners who wanted to know more details.

“I’d like to know because, I’m going to be honest with you – the two groups you just mentioned – the chamber and TREBIC – they ask us to support every single incentive that comes before this board,” Conrad said. “I know they ask these companies to opt out with incentives grants, to where they don’t pay property tax, and now they’re going to not support another potential revenue source? So, I’m going to tell you that, if it’s those two, I’m a ‘no’ on every single incentive that comes before this board in the future. I’m a hard ‘no.’ And I want to know who else you are talking about – because that’s very frustrating to me.”

Other commissioners had very similar reactions.

The day after the meeting Sandford said that this was essentially a misunderstanding. Invest in GCS isn’t opposed to the sales tax hike, she said, but it has limited resources and the school bond referendum is the first priority.

“The group that was referred to is a loosely organized group of business leaders who have historically organized and funded bond campaigns for the community,” Sanford said. “For the purposes of school bond support, they call themselves ‘Invest in GCS.’ We absolutely do not oppose the quarter-cent sales tax. We understand that it is the smartest way to pay for these school facilities. It was merely a question of how we deploy limited resources. It seemed clear that the bond was the top priority – and that it will take significantly more time, money and effort to educate the electorate about the wisdom of the quarter-cent sales tax. So, we expect to do that in the future.”