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Macon leaders to consider sales tax increase to fund capital improvements in education

The Macon County Board of Commissioners held its annual budget kickoff meeting on Thursday to begin the process of prioritizing needs and services to be funded in the county’s nearly $60 million budget. 

At the top of the board’s priority list sits infrastructure improvements for schools across Macon County. From the need for a new preschool space at Highlands School to a completely new facility to house Franklin High School, the needs across the district are many… and costly. 

As a possibility to generate additional funding for the needed projects now and in the future, Macon County Manager Derek Roland said the board can move forward with consideration of a sales tax increase, with revenues specifically designated for education. 

North Carolina offers individual counties the option to increase the 6.75 percent statewide sales tax to an even 7 percent, with all revenues from the extra quarter-cent going back to the county — the base 6.75 percent sales tax is shared between the county and state.

In Jackson County, nearly two-thirds of Jackson County voters voted in favor of a referendum question allowing the county to increase the county’s sales tax by one-fourth of a cent in 2016. The measure increased the county’s sales tax from 6.75 to 7 percent and is expected to generate an additional $1.2 million a year for the county.

According to Roland, the increase to sales tax in Macon County would generate an additional $1.7 million that would be earmarked for schools. 

When Jackson approved the measure in 2016, they became the 28th of 100 counties to adopt the extra quarter-cent, joining its neighbor Haywood County. Since 2016, the number of North Carolina counties with the tax has nearly doubled with 46 of the state’s 100 counties implementing the tax. 

As it stands, funding for the school system, including capital outlay projects and infrastructure needs, are funded out of the county’s general budget, which is funded through the county’s property taxes, meaning Macon County landowners and homeowners pay the bill. Neighboring counties like Jackson County, and Rabun County Georgia, have taken a different approach to funding school needs by approving an education-specific sales tax that generates revenue for infrastructure needs. Rather than raising property tax rates to generate additional revenue from property owners, a sales tax revenue would mean anyone shopping in Macon County and paying a sales tax, would be funding the school improvements, rather than just residents.

Sales tax is often rounded up to 7 percent already, and those dollars get rolled into the redistribution of sales tax across the state. Out of the 6.75 percent sales tax, less than 3 percent is currently returned to the county. An education-specific 1/4 of a penny tax would be guaranteed to Macon County each year. 

In order for Macon County to consider the quarter-cent sales tax increase, the Macon County Board of Commissioners would have to vote to put the referendum on the ballot for voters to either approve or deny. By state statute, the entire quarter-cent sales tax would be returned to the county in which it was generated, while the majority of sales tax collected in the county is reimbursed to other counties in the state.

To contact Macon County about the possibility of commissioners considering a referendum on the November ballot to provide a tax specific for education, contact County Manager Derek Roland at droland@maconnc.org or (828) 349-2000

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