Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Do you support a transportation sales tax increase? Locals can weigh in

A quarter-cents sales tax increase could be on the November ballot to help improve public transportation, including connectivity to routes and efficiency of Wave Transit (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands).

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Before the quarter-cent transportation sales tax referendum shows up on the November ballot, the community can share feedback about its proposal at an upcoming public hearing. It will take place during the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners’ May 2 meeting.

The proposed sales tax — equal to 25 cents for every $100 spent — is projected to bring in more than $140 million over the next decade to support transportation projects. Around $56 million would go toward bike and pedestrian paths, while $23 million would back the rail realignment. The bulk of the money — $65 million — would help fund Wave Transit over the next 10 years.

READ MORE: Voters to decide on sales tax increase for Wave Transit, new trails in next election

The tax would be applicable to goods purchased in New Hanover County, with the exclusion of groceries, gas and prescriptions.

Money from the increase would go toward improving transportation and connectivity in the area, and could fund new, diverse projects, according to a release from county officials.

Some include:

  • More bike and pedestrian pathways
  • New trails to connect to Wave Transit stops
  • New and safer crosswalks at major corridors
  • Pathways for residents to commute to work, school, or access businesses without needing a vehicle
  • Improving Wave Transit’s hours of operation, flexibility, and services
  • Investing in zero-emission vehicles and greener technology for Wave

The resources also would allow opportunities to innovate programs for better student transportation and expand Wi-Fi for more reliable access. The sales tax would support the city’s major rail realignment project, with the potential to convert lines in densely populated areas to a public trolley or other form of transportation. The county and city also could leverage the funds to obtain additional state and federal dollars.

Wave CEO Marie Parker told Port City Daily in February the transportation authority has balanced its budget over the next two years with an influx of funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. However, the money generated from a positive vote on the referendum would create a much-needed, stable revenue source for the bus service.

“[E]very dollar invested in public transportation generates five dollars in economic returns,” Parker said. “The funding would create jobs, support capital investments and projects, and increase access across the community.”

In December, an ad hoc committee — consisting of New Hanover commissioners Rob Zapple and Jonathan Barfield and city council members Clifford Barnett, Kevin Spears and Margaret Haynes — voted in favor of placing the sales tax referendum on the November 2022 ballot.

Yet, at a February joint meeting between the city and county, there was a sudden change of pace. The two bodies were supposed to address the agenda item but chair Julia Olson-Boseman tried to curtail discussions, saying at the time the war that started overnight in Ukraine “changed everything.”

ALSO: ‘Backpedaling:’ Pressed by city leaders, county officials still hesitate on transit sales tax

“What does the war have to do with transportation?” city councilman Spears asked at the meeting.

Commissioner Zapple explained there was “internal debate” happening about the tax increase, some decrying the growing inflation rate was already taking a toll on locals, not to mention businesses still recovering from the pandemic. Council member Luke Waddell agreed, also noting the increase of the ad valorem tax that went into effect.

CATCH UP: Revaluations mean lower tax rate, but likely higher tax bills in Wilmington, New Hanover County

“If the citizens in our community deem public transportation important, they’ll vote for it,” commissioner Barfield said at the time. “And if they don’t, they won’t vote for it, and then we can move on from there.” The New Hanover commissioners voted in a Mar. 22 meeting, 4-1 (Olson-Boseman cast the dissenting vote), to prepare to put the tax increase on the ballot.

The state-required hearing to garner public feedback will take place at 4 p.m. on Monday, May 2, at the New Hanover County Courthouse (24 North 3rd St., room 301).

Those who cannot attend can submit comments ahead of time here, and watch live at NHCTV.comYouTube, and Spectrum Cable channel 13.  The commissioners will vote after the hearing whether to add the item to the ballot, with voters taking up the issue — checking “for” or “against” — come this fall.

If it were to receive approval from at least half of voters, commissioners would take a vote thereafter to adopt the increase.

Have tips or comments? Email info@portcitydaily.com

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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