ELIZABETHTOWN — With just under 70 percent of Bladen County’s registered voters casting a ballot, the quarter-cent sales tax referendum failed miserably once again — this time by a margin of 10,806 to 4,235.
It is the fifth defeat of a quarter-cent sales tax referendum in six years in the county.
“I’m surprised … I thought it would go ahead this time,” said Arthur Bullock, co-chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners and a member of the county’s EMS. “But I think voters sent a strong message.”
Bullock added that he thought voters were concerned with how the money might get used.
“I spoke with voters at the polls, and many of them said they thought, if this passed, the commissioners would put the money in the general fund and use it any way they wanted,” he said. “And when you only need five votes (to pass a motion), I suppose that could happen.”
Bullock was hesitant to say whether he supported the referendum himself, but did share his feelings about a potential new tax.
“This is a poor county, so when you start talking about additional taxes, people don’t want to support it,” he said. “And this (referendum) has been defeated how many times now?”
The referendum was ear-marking the money raised by the sales tax, estimated at about $500,000 annually, for the county’s EMS. Previous referendums had focused on schools and property taxes.
Charles Ray Peterson, a county commissioner since 2002 who made the motion to put the sales tax referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot, said he wasn’t necessarily surprised the issue failed — but was surprised by the margin.
“Honestly, I’m shocked with it,” he said. “I knew it would be an uphill battle, but I just can’t believe it was defeated by such a wide margin.”
Peterson added that the reason a sales tax referendum is necessary is because the county needs help paying for the needs of its schools and EMS services.
“A sales tax is the fairest possible tax there is,” Peterson said. “But now we’ve got to find another way — hopefully we can think outside the box for a solution.
“None of us wants to impose an EMS tax on property owners,” he added. “We just can’t do that.”
With the face of the county’s Board of Commissioners changing — with three new members coming on board in Republicans Ashley Trivette, David Gooden and Ray Britt — Peterson is hoping there will be an opportunity for teamwork to solve future budget crunches.
“I’m going into the new year with a positive outlook and confidence that we can pull together for the good of the county,” he said.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.