Itâ€™s encouraging to see the county managers from Lincoln, Mecklenberg, Cabarrus, Gaston, Stanley, Anson and Union putting their heads together to collectively lobby the General Assembly for assistance on the rising cost of school construction and improvements.
Individual efforts so far have not been successful. By joining together, local officials can present a regional lobby that will be hard to ignore.
Lincoln County just passed a $47 million bond bill and could see its school debt swell to $94 million by 2005-06. Union County has sought a total of $277 million in school bond money since 1998 and Charlotte-Mecklenburg is looking at a $1.5 billion in construction needs over the next decade. Traditionally, counties meet their funding needs through the property tax but most local officials do not want to increase that burden, which falls on many retirees who should no longer have to bear a schools burden they have supported throughout their working career. Many retirees canâ€™t afford the extra burden because of the huge increase in healthcare expenses and the rising cost of fuel and electricity.
Lincoln County has looked at impact fees, increasing the sales tax and having a real estate transfer tax in order to bring in money without raising the property tax. Commissioners have adopted a resolution asking the General Assembly to approve a real estate transfer tax. Other counties are having similar deliberations and are currently discussing which items would have the best chance of getting through the General Assembly.
We have heard legislators get defensive about passing new taxes onto homebuyers. What they really need to worry about is local governments having to pass these taxes onto elderly homeowners who have already paid their share of taxes. Who should shoulder the burden of new schools? Should it be property owners that include retirees on fixed income who have been paying for schools their whole lives, or should it be the young family just starting out that is able to buy a tract of real estate and is preparing to send a bunch of children to school?
It sounds like a no-brainer, but legislators often listen to the special interests groups in Raleigh instead of their own constituents. A collective voice of local governments just might be heard.