Along with choosing state and national leaders, Scotland County voters will decide on Tuesday an issue that lies closer to home — a proposed increase in the county’s sales tax rate.
At present, the sales tax rate in Scotland County is 6.75 percent.
On the ballot, voters are asked to vote for or against an additional one-quarter percent local sales and use tax.
If a majority of voters are for the increase, the Scotland County Board of Commissioners will consider whether to adopt a resolution to levy the tax, which will be put into effect no earlier than April 1, 2013.
If passed, the tax will mean an additional quarter of a cent charged for each dollar spent in the county - a full cent for every four dollars or 25 cents for every $100.
“It’s just one-fourth of a penny, not 25 percent of whatever number you have in your mind, it’s one-fourth of a penny,” County Commissioner Joyce McDow told a recent meeting of the Scotland County Democratic Women. “Remember that we paid more sales tax last year than we’re paying this year. We’re paying a penny less now, and we’re not asking for a penny back, just one-fourth of a penny.”
From September 2009 until July 2011, the Scotland County sales tax was 7.75 percent due to a temporary increase in the state-mandated tax level.
The increase, if enacted, is expected to bring $600,000 of revenue to the county annually by bringing the tax rate to 7 percent, and would not affect prescription medications, gasoline, or many food items.
The resolution has received support from both sides of the political aisle, as a recent petition sponsored by the Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce in support of the increase was signed by some 35 local residents, including members of the Scotland County Democratic Women and Bill Owens, chairman of the Scotland County Republican Party.
Although there are some concerns that a rise in taxes would deter people from shopping in Scotland County, some say they pay little attention to sales tax rates.
“It would not influence my decision very much because other counties have higher rates than we do as far as sales taxes are concerned,” said Democratic Women member Marilyn McVicker. “I think that a quarter of one cent is really infinitesimal. I think you have to study any issue and this one is necessary for us; our schools need repairs and so many things need to be done.”
Steve Cole, owner of Simmons Heating and Air in Laurinburg, agreed.
“I’m a resident of Laurinburg and I own a business in Laurinburg and to me it’s the greatest no-brainer on the face of the earth,” Cole said. “It’s a very small tax, it won’t come out of your pocket all at the same time. As a matter of fact, I voted early and I voted for it.”
The additional county spending enabled by the tax could create more work for local businesses.
“There’s a tremendous amount of maintenance to be done: old inefficient lighitng, heating, and air conditioning equipment, you name it,” said Cole, who added that sales taxes in many surrounding counties are at 7 percent or higher.
“We do business in 10 counties and Scotland County is the only county that does not charge 7 percent… You go and cross over into South Carolina, they have a higer rate than seven, I think it’s eight or so.”
Neighboring counties Robeson and Cumberland have sales tax rates of 7 percent, while Richmond, Hoke, and Moore maintain a 6.75 percent sales tax at present. Across the South Carolina border, sales tax in Marlboro County is 7 percent, with Chesterfield County at 8 percent.
“If anybody goes shopping at the Fayetteville mall, they’re paying a 7 percent sales tax,” said Scotland County Economic Development Director Greg Icard. “If I’m dong something outside Scotland, I don’t decide where to go based on the sales tax. I don’t think it would have any impact, personally.”
Others feel that any increase in taxation is too much in a time when county residents are already burdened financially.
“It’s going to make things cost more,” said Ron Riggins, owner of Champs Fine Foods and Spirits in Laurinburg. “The commissioners want to say that it’s such a little amount of money that no one will miss it, but if it’s such a little amount of money, why do they need it?”