More than four months before voters are expected to vote on a proposed sales tax increase, New Hanover County launched the first part of a campaign to educate voters.
At stake is a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase that would raise about $14 million each year for New Hanover’s transportation projects. The measure will need to win the approval of a majority of voters in the November election to go ahead.
In late June, New Hanover County launched a website aimed at informing voters about the proposed sales tax increase and how the money would be used. This month, local government leaders, including those in Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach, are scheduled to hear presentations on the proposed sales tax.
In North Carolina, sales taxes apply to all goods purchased except groceries, gasoline, and prescription drugs as well as other items exempt from sales tax. The current sales tax in New Hanover County is seven cents. If the additional quarter-cent tax is approved, that would mean that a $100 purchase would cost an additional 25 cents in additional tax.
New Hanover County plans to use social media, flyers and posters as well as newsletters and community meetings to provide sales tax information.
In the fall, the county plans to coordinate community sessions where staff will present potential projects and sales tax uses, according to Jessica Loeper, director of communications for New Hanover County.
Responsibility for an education campaign around the sales tax fell to New Hanover County and other local entities, including the City of Wilmington, WAVE Transit, and the Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. of Wilmington, because these are the main groups that will benefit from the referendum.
While groups are allowed to educate the public, they are not allowed to take a position on the issue. That’s something only politicians or outside interest groups can do, according to Nadine Gibson, assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Depending on the issue, referendums can attract interest groups that fund support or opposition campaigns, Gibson said. So far, campaign investment seems to be on a much smaller scale.
For example, the website created by New Hanover County is part of the county’s existing website, the county will use in-kind and earned media for most of its outreach and all promotional materials will be printed in-house and funded by the county’s communications budget. .
“This is standard for any program or service that the county wants to make sure residents know about,” Loeper wrote in an email to StarNews.
The cost of the campaign is expected to be “minimal” and has not been estimated by the county, according to Loeper.
Gibson, who studies voter behavior, said she doesn’t expect the county’s advocacy efforts to have a significant impact on the outcome of the sales tax referendum. Mid-term elections, particularly at the local level, typically see lower voter turnout than general election cycles and those who vote often have low levels of information about the local issues they are voting on.
“Usually we deal with little information,” Gibson said. “People will probably read (the referendum), pass judgment, and then vote yes or no.”
Because the referendum implies a tax increase which could make its passage more difficult, according to Gibson. However, putting the measure on a midterm ballot could mean those who go to the polls could be more “politically sophisticated”, Gibson said, and informed about the referendum.
Voters should consider the quarter-cent sales tax in the Nov. 8 election. The money raised will create a permanent source of funding for transportation projects, including WAVE transit improvements, cycle and pedestrian paths, and the rail realignment project.
If approved, the sales tax hike would take effect in April 2023.
Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected]