1/4 Penny tax for County Education; TJCA buys high school property from county

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Rutherford County residents will once again have the opportunity to vote on a local sales and use tax increase at the rate of one-quarter percent. This would increase the county sales tax from 6 3/4 cents to 7 % and create a capital fund to meet county educational needs.

You are already paying a 7 cent tax rate

As county commissioner Michael Benfield was quick to point out, residents are already paying 7%. A soft drink at McDonald’s costs $1 and then with the current tax rate, 7 cents is added to your bill. No one gives you a 1/4 cent in change. Since the vendor only pays the State 6 3/4 cents, McDonalds is keeping that 1/4 cent.

However, if the sales tax referendum passes, the 1/4 cent would be allocated to county education needs. If this referendum passes in May, the additional tax is expected to generate approximately $1.2 million per year that will go toward the critical facility needs facing Rutherford County education.

Critical school capital facility needs

The Rutherford County School’s Facilities Committee  recommended a phased-in building plan over the next decade:

  1. Phase I five-year plan to replace R-S Middle School, Cliffside Elementary School and the bus garage/maintenance facility
  2. Phase II ten-year plan to replace East Rutherford and Chase High Schools.

The estimated costs for the identified school system capital outlay over a ten-year period is approximately $199 million. The quarter cent funds would be used for general capital outlay, furnishings, new facilities, technology, technology infrastructure and vehicle replacements. Also Isothermal Community College decades-old buildings will need upgrades to meet the fast changing technological challenges and to support the REaCH program.

RC Schools already is requesting $4.1 Million for making their expansion shovel ready. The state is looking at funding Tier Two counties like our own for shovel ready projects. The RC School Board and RC Commissioners will conduct a joint meeting on January 16, 2018 for discussion.

Charter Schools agreed at their conception that County governments are not permitted to provide any direct capital funding to charter schools. Funds to charter schools are allocated indirectly through the local school administrative unit per N.C.G.S. 115C-426. However, Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy was deeded in 1999 the former Tri-City High School for its use; that property is currently worth approximately $1.9M and TJCA has since done much to improve that property.

In presenting the quarter penny referendum, county manager Steve Garrison emphasized that public education is the #1 economic driver for new businesses and jobs. County Commissioner Bryan King added:

“We are at a turning point here in the county. Our educational systems are top notch. Our RCS superintendent is rated #1 in the state, our local charter schools are receiving accolades, and there are choices in school in RC as a whole.”

King’s emphasis on looking at the county as a whole requires a team for continued education success. When Lake Lure Classical Academy sought funding from the USDA, the county loaned its expertise in the application. Now that Thomas Jefferson is also applying for a USDA loan and facing an obstacle in the reversion clause contained in the Tri-High deed, the parties sought a working compromise since by law the County cannot give the building to the school. Last night, the county commissioners passed a resolution to sell an undeveloped part to the TJCA- Community Education Fund board. This property is unencumbered and can be used as collateral for a loan.

The Rutherford County Finance Department and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners estimate, based on current sales tax figures, that the one-fourth of a penny sales and use tax would generate approximately $1,200,000 annually. Additionally, visitors to our area will also be contributing to the education fund with their purchases.

How does this compare to property taxes?

One penny in Rutherford County property tax raises close to $530,000 (excluding economic development incentives paid out). One-fourth of a penny in sales tax is projected to raise around $1,200,000 per year.

There are numerous items exempt from the sales tax including prescription medication, gasoline, certain agricultural supplies and motor vehicles. For a full listing, see North Carolina General Statute 105-164.13.

What is the voting procedure?

Details on the voting process can be found on the Board of Elections website. The form of the ballot question for the additional one-quarter cent sales tax is mandated by the NC General Statute 105-537(c). Please see below:


Local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter percent (0.25%) in addition to all other State and local sales and use taxes.

Why is it not stated on the ballot how the county plans to use the additional one-quarter cent Sales Tax?

The NC General Statutes define that a county may not stipulate the use of these funds on the ballot.

Be informed, ask questions, and learn how the quarter cent tax can affect our county education system.

David Wheeler for NC Senate District 47