The May election at which county voters will determine the fate of a $1.7 billion school bond referendum is just around the corner, and that’s one reason Guilford County has ramped up its efforts to get those bonds passed and also get a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax passed to bring in an additional $18 million or $20 million in new revenue per year – money the county will need if it’s going to start making the debt payment for the massive school bond.
Last week, at the board’s Thursday, April 7 regular meeting, the six Democratic commissioners on the board passed a motion that’s essentially waving a carrot in the faces of property owners who may be on the fence on the issue. The motion calls for the board, if the sales tax hike passes, to reduce the county’s property tax rate by about 3 cents per each $100 of assessed property value.
Soon after that April 7 meeting, the board began using the resolution as a sales tool to get the sales tax hike passed.
In a press release sent to media outlets, county officials let the community know that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted on April 7 to communicate their intentions through the resolution, “to lower the Guilford County Property Tax Rate to an amount equivalent to the sales and use tax revenues upon adoption of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget. This commitment is projected to reduce the property tax by a minimum of three cents, should the one-quarter cent sales and use tax pass.”
Alston, the main architect behind the move, issued the following statement.
“The proposed sales tax is expected to generate about $20 million in revenues annually,” he wrote. “Although the recent revaluation raised property taxes for most property owners, this resolution would allow them to save money on their property tax bill if they support the one-quarter cent sales tax. Our goal is to soften the burden for the property owners. The one-quarter cent sales tax, which is paid by everyone regardless if they are renters or tourists, will help generate revenues to help to cover our $2 billion in school needs. This is one way the property owners can vote themselves a tax decrease. Let’s be clear…this school bond and quarter-cent sales and use tax is about putting our children first, not just about buildings. The condition of our schools have a direct impact on our kids’ ability to learn.”
The board also took the step of promising that, should the local sales tax pass, the proceeds “would be used exclusively to fund school construction needs and related debt repayment.”
The board can promise that, however, some voters are wary of that type of commitment. The current board of commissioners cannot bind future boards – which may have vastly different priorities a year from now – or in three years or in eight or nine years. So, the current board can make the promise, but can’t do so for coming boards.
Also, in the past, school bond referendums – like the ones voters approved in May 2008 – may be sold to the community for certain projects, and, years later, it turns out that the school projects that got the money were different than the ones used by county and school officials to sell the bond referendum to the community.
Guilford County officials are also currently pushing hard to convince the community of the need for that very large amount on the new proposed school bond, stating in a press release, “A 2019 independent facilities assessment study jointly funded by the County’s board of commissioners and school board found that the district’s schools were in a significant state of disrepair, with 50 percent of schools rating as being in either poor or unsatisfactory condition. Guilford County Schools currently has more than $2 billion in facilities’ needs, including more than $800 million in deferred maintenance.”
Former Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson, who was part of those talks for years between the school system and the commissioners, said that there have been several studies of school needs in recent years and they don’t all say the same thing. Branson pointed out that the county voters just approved a $300 million bond in the last election and the school system is just now starting to spend the bulk of that money.
Guilford County is also pointing out in its notices to the media that several surrounding counties – and Guilford’s peer counties like Forsyth, Randolph, Orange, Wake and Mecklenburg counties – have passed a similar sales tax hike.