County leaders divided on tax hikes

by: Jenna Deery Updated:


Mecklenburg County commissioners are relying on a controversial vote to raise sales taxes to fund pay raises for all Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers.
Eyewitness News learned Monday county leaders don't have a clear backup plan if the measure is turned down by voters in November, but some comments made by the board's leader have some commissioners worried about what board Democrats may be thinking.
Board Chairman Trevor Fuller and four other board Democrats approved a plan last week to fund teacher pay raises through a sales-tax increase.
He said Monday that there are only two ways to fund higher teacher pay -- through sales taxes or property taxes.
"If we don't have a sales-tax revenue source, the only other source is property tax," said Fuller. 
At a meeting Sunday, he told members of the Black Political Caucus that if voters turn down a quarter-of-a-penny sales-tax increase in November, which is slated to generate an extra $34 million, property taxes would have to go up 3 cents to get the same amount of money.
"Either it's sales tax or it's property tax or we don't fund it at all," Fuller said.
He doesn't support a property sales tax and believes a small sales tax increase is a softer blow to taxpayers.
Other commissioners said they aren't confident the sales tax hike proposal will pass when it is put on the November ballot.
They said they don't believe they should be raising property taxes to pay for it either.
"If this was such a priority, we should have found the funds in our budget to do this," said Matthew Ridenhour (R-Dist. 5).
"We need to give (teachers) certainty but I think, as of now, we haven't given them certainty yet," said Pat Cotham, (D-at-Large).
Colette Forrest heard the controversial discussion at the BPC meeting. She said she's not clear the county has a solid plan to give teachers what they need.
"I just don't think that it is the right vehicle to do the right thing," said Forrest. 

Forrest and other voters will be looking at a ballot in November that has the county sales-tax increase and a $145 million bond referendum for the city.
Critics are wondering if they are both set up to fail and if voters will feel weighed down with expenses and just vote no.