RALEIGH — A legislator who represents Surry County has filed a bill which could result in $4 million in additional funds for Surry County’s school systems — but only if county residents are willing to agree to a half-cent sales tax increase.
N.C. Sen. Shirley Randleman, a Wilkes County legislator who represents Surry County, was sole sponsor on Senate Bill 166 that would allow counties to levy an Article 43 sales tax to fund capital projects for schools.
Currently, the tax (either a half-cent or quarter-cent) is restricted for use in public transportation. Surry County doesn’t have its own public train or bus service to fund, so such a tax has never been implemented.
Randleman’s SB 166 was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.
Even if the General Assembly passes the bill, that doesn’t automatically create a new tax on local residents. A referendum would have to go on the ballot for approval by county voters.
County Commissioner Larry Phillips, who supports the bill, said there’s no threat to public transit systems which rely on Article 43 revenue as those already using the tax cannot divert the funding from transportation to schools.
The political risk involved with levying such a tax wouldn’t fall on state legislators since the issue would hinge on a public referendum. Phillips believes these factors should help the bill see passage.
“Nobody has said it’s a bad idea,” said Phillips. “It’s a common-sense solution.”
Phillips went on to explain he has talked to many lawmakers who seemed to be in favor of expanding the allowable use of the sales tax with N.C. House of Representatives Speaker Tim Moore as one example.
The county commissioner, who serves as first vice president of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, added he believes the county caucus (comprised of about 30 members of the House and Senate who once served as county commissioners) will get behind the bill.
Surry County commissioners have been grappling with how to appropriately fund school capital needs since the county’s three school systems presented facilities studies in 2014 and 2015 claiming an aggregate need of more than $170 million in school capital improvements.
Phillips has been looking to an Article 43 sales tax expansion as a way to help fund needed improvements and pay on debt associated with school projects. A half-cent sales tax in Surry County would generate an estimated $4 million in revenue per year.
Phillips said he is happy the bill has been filed, but he will be more excited when it makes it to the floor of the senate for debate. A complimentary bill may also soon be filed in the House.
If all goes well, and the bill is passed, Phillips said it could be “huge” in helping Surry and other counties provide necessary funding for school construction and renovation.
“Everybody has been very receptive of the idea,” said Phillips. “It has taken about a year and a half of pounding the pavement on Jones Street to get this far.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.