Statement on Vote to Continue Per Capita Method of Sales Tax Distribution

At our December 16 meeting, the board of commissioners unanimously voted to maintain the per capita method of sales tax distribution.  This followed a sales tax committee meeting in which a motion to change the formula failed to obtain a majority, deadlocking on a 3-3 vote.

At the commissioners’ meeting, I made the motion to maintain the per capita distribution method, but also emphasized that we must recognize the importance, value and economic contributions of our beach towns.

When we formed the sales tax committee a few months ago, we emphasized the fact that the board of commissioners was not advocating any specific outcome.  We were asked to review the formula, and that is what we agreed to do.  The committee was tasked with reviewing the situation and then making its case to the board of commissioners.  In a statement I read at the beginning of the first sales tax committee meeting, I stated that the board of commissioners would have to be convinced of two things before we make any changes:  first, that a change needs to be made; and, second, that any proposed change is the right one.  I also reiterated Chairman Phil Norris’ statement that we would have to see a compelling reason to make a change.  The committee operated openly and transparently, engaged our municipal leaders, raised public awareness and encouraged citizen participation.

No matter what we decided, someone was going to be unhappy.  Both sides of this issue felt that their position was the most fair position.  I heard people on each side of the issue say that they felt people on the other side were being “greedy.”  Both sides of the issue felt that their position was indisputably the right one.

According to our research, 47 North Carolina counties use the ad valorem distribution method and 53 use the per capita method.  There is no right or wrong way to do this; there is only what is best for Brunswick County.  As a board, our challenge was to decide what was in the best interests of the greatest number of Brunswick County residents.

Ultimately, I became convinced that there was not a compelling reason to make a change and that the best decision was to retain the per capita method.  I reached this conclusion for a variety of reasons, including:

  • By my count, 15 of our 19 municipalities weighed in against a change;
  • While a change would benefit some municipalities, far more would be adversely impacted;
  • Constituent feedback from throughout the county was overwhelmingly opposed to any change;
  • In the end, the committee did not reach a consensus for change.

While I am confident that we made the right decision, I also believe that we need to begin a discussion about what role the county should play in helping address the unique coastal issues facing our beach communities.  As I stated earlier, our beach towns are an important part of our county, and they are an important piece of our economy.  While we may have 19 municipalities, each with its own unique identity, we are one county, and prosperity in our beach towns benefits citizens countywide.

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