Sales tax talk: Discussion will be on quorum court’s agenda

Friday, April 5, 2019

By Scott Loftis

Discussion of a potential sales tax campaign will be on the agenda for the Carroll County Quorum Court’s April 15 meeting.

The court’s joint budget and finance committee agreed unanimously Thursday to refer the issue to the full court for discussion at this month’s meeting. That would set the stage for a resolution to be introduced, perhaps as soon as the court’s May meeting.

District 1 Justice of the Peace Jack Deaton, who chairs the budget committee, has raised the idea of a countywide sales tax that would be used to finance upgrades to the county’s emergency communications network.

The upgrades would include replacing equipment installed on communications towers across the county, Deaton said, although the actual towers would not have to be replaced. Law enforcement and firefighters in the county would also need new hand-held radios that would be compatible with the new system.

Replacing equipment on the towers would cost several million dollars.

“The towers are where all money’s at, where it costs the most,” Deaton said.

Although the expense of replacing radios could be left up to individual police and fire departments, District 2 JP Chuck Olson said at Thursday’s meeting that he believes voters would be more likely to approve a sales tax if the county provided the new radios.

“We’re talking multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars for most fire departments,” said Olson, a member of the Grassy Knob Fire Department. “Like I told Jack, I can sell this to my people — if it will cover the department radios.”

Deaton said the tax could be called a “public safety tax,” with revenue that isn’t needed for the communications upgrade distributed to fire departments in the county.

“There’s nine fire departments in the county, and the county gives them $1,000 a year,” said Deaton, a former Holiday Island fire chief. “That won’t even buy a set of turnout gear. So this money could start giving the fire departments more money each year. A percentage of it goes to the sheriff’s office and a percentage of it goes to each police department.”

Deaton noted that the county’s existing equipment is nearing the end of its life expectancy. He said radio interference is becoming more and more common as frequencies become more crowded.

“We’re on borrowed time,” he said.

Deaton distributed a document outlining how much revenue a half-cent countywide sales tax would have generated over each of the eight years — ranging from $1.5 million in 2011 to a little more than $2 million in 2017 and 2018.

“A half-cent sales tax — if you spend $100, you’ll pay 50 cents in tax,” he said. “Now, if you’re buying a brand-new car, it’s going to rack up some numbers. … So it’s not a lot of money on each person, but it’s a tax.”

Olson said the issue should be discussed by the full quorum court.

“I think it’s important,” he said. “One way or another, we need to find out if the quorum court is for it or against it.”

The April meeting of the quorum court will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, April 15, in the courtroom of the Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville.

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