Sales tax hike to build rec center?

By William R. Toler

July 7, 2014

ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County residents will be voting on an increase to the local sales tax in November.

County commissioners passed a resolution Monday evening to place a referendum for a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the general election ballot.

County Manager Rick Sago said the increase would raise the sales tax from its current rate of 6.75 percent to an even 7 percent.

The resolution lists the proposed Rockingham Recreational Complex as one of the economic development needs that would benefit from the increase.

Sago said the complex has been on the drawing board for several years and that commissioners have supported it in the past, though no county funds have been used toward it yet.

The city of Rockingham and the Cole Foundation have spent about $1 million on the 118-acre complex on Aberdeen Road, he said.

He said the planned complex contains five football and soccer fields and there are also eight baseball and softball fields proposed.

“(It) could have a direct impact on the economy,” Sago said, pointing to a similar complex in Sumter County, South Carolina, that he said generates $11 million per year.

He added that there would be an indirect benefit to economic development by increasing the quality of life, making the area more attractive to companies looking to locate in Richmond County.

“We have to invest money in order to expect results,” said Commissioner Ben Moss.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Kenneth Robinette said the county needs a facility to bring in traveling sports teams.

“Economic development is not just manufacturing anymore,” he said.

Moss said if Richmond County had a facility to host sports tournaments, it would bring in money through food and fuel sales.

He added that it would be something to keep young people from “getting bored.”

“It gives something for the youth to be proud of,” he said.

Sago said the county and the cities have already spent millions on infrastructure for economic development. He estimates the tax increase would generate up to $650,000 per year for the county.

The resolution also states that increasing the sales tax would be an alternative to raising property taxes by “(providing) an additional source of revenue for the county without undue burden on property owners.”

“We’ve been able to keep our property tax rate the same for seven years,” Sago said.

The current property tax rate is $0.81 per $100 in property value.

“The only fair tax we can have is a sales tax,” Moss said.

Rockingham resident Kenneth Conway said he doesn’t mind the increase.

“I think we can afford it,” he said. “There’s work that needs to be done and I don’t think that would hurt anybody, I really don’t.”

Moss said the increase should be left up to the residents. If they support it, he said, the county stands to benefit.

“If they don’t,” he said, “then that’s the will of the taxpayers.”

Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.