New Hanover moves forward with sales tax referendum to fund public transit

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New Hanover County is moving forward with a sales tax referendum aimed at raising money for local transportation projects.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to order county staff to begin the process of placing a quarter-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot. The Board of Commissioners is required to approve any county-wide referendum.

The quarter-cent sales tax increase will need to be approved by a majority of voters in the Nov. 8 election to take effect. The tax is expected to raise more than $144.4 million over the next 10 years, according to Lisa Wurtzbacher, the county’s chief financial officer.

Continued:4 Things You Need to Know About a Possible New Hanover County Sales Tax Increase

The money from the tax increase can only be used to finance, build, operate or maintain public transport systems.

The money would be allocated to the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County based on their populations, with Wilmington getting more than $79.4 million and New Hanover County $65 million, Wurtzbacher said.

About 45% of that money would be invested in WAVE Transit, 39% would go to cycle and pedestrian paths and 16% would fund the rail realignment project, according to Wurtzbacher.

Continued:Near the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, two new bridges are planned to form the Wilmington Rail Realignment

Board Chair Julia Olson-Boseman voted against going ahead with the referendum.

She said the timing was wrong since the council recently asked county staff to prepare a budget that cuts taxes. In a joint meeting last month with the Wilmington City Council, Olson-Boseman also expressed concern about costs already rising due to inflation and the war in Ukraine.

But Commissioner Rob Zapple stressed that the higher sales tax will be paid by tourists and those visiting New Hanover County in addition to residents.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield agreed and said he thought it was positive.

“I think it’s a great way to share the burden, so to speak,” he said.

Barfield said a potential sales tax increase could help revitalize the area’s public transportation systems and that voting on the issue will give residents a say.

“If we want to be forward-thinking, I think it’s important that we allow the citizens of our community to activate their voice,” he said, “and their voice votes yes or no.”

The Board of Commissioners will hold a mandatory public hearing on the referendum later this year.

He will then approve a resolution directing the New Hanover County Board of Elections to place the article on the ballot, according to Deputy County Executive Sheryl Kelly.

Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected]

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