In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the theme song Happy Days Are Here Again to jump start his presidential campaign and lift the country’s spirits on the heels of the Great Depression.
    Each member of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners may very well be humming the same tune after voters approved a 1/4 cent sales tax increase last week that will generate about $8 million for the county to help pay for a new public library and health department, as well as cover other costs.
    The sales tax referendum was approved by 30,817 votes to 20,246 — 60.4 percent to 39.6 percent. This was a much higher turnout of Cumberland County voters than usual, and some commissioners say Democratic presidential nominees Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had a huge say in the sales tax approval.
“I expect the turnout was because of the presidential election,” said Commissioner Diane Wheatley. “I was a little concerned that some just came out to vote in the presidential election and didn’t know what the tax was about.” {mosimage}
    Dr. Jeannette Council, vice chairman of the board of commissioners, also gave a shout-out to Hillary and Barack for the passage of the sales tax increase.
    “I think one of the reasons we got this passed was because of the large turnout of voters,” said Council. “And I absolutely think the interest in Obama and Clinton was the reason for the turnout.
“I am ecstatic about the passing of the sales tax,” added Council. “It means we can meet our budget for the year. We were facing a shortfall.”
    The county faced a $4 million budget shortfall if the tax had not been passed. While the new sales tax does initially add up to about $8 million a year in extra revenue for the county, the overall numbers come to $4.8 million a year, as the tax increase included an incentive to lower property taxes by 2 cents — which most of the commissioners, including Wheatley, believe was a key selling point for the approval of the tax increase.
“This will give the property owners some relief,” said Wheatley. “It will also help fund the new health department, which we desperately need, and the new public library to be built on the same location as the new elementary school planned for the western part of the county.”
    The new health department will be on Ramsey Street adjacent to the Department of Social Services, and will be a three-story, 108,000-square-foot building.
    The planned public library will actually be a part of the campus of the planned elementary school, something that is fairly unique for North Carolina, said  Sarah Vanderclute, director of public information for Cumberland County.
    “It’s not completely unheard of to have a public library and a public school in the same complex, but it is rare,” said Vanderclute.  “Our spirits are very high and we are very pleased with the vote. It is a major plus for the county and it will help us build the kind of county we want.”
    According to Vanderclute, the health department will cost $28-$30 million, while the library will be $6-$7 million.
    Breeden Blackwell, chairman of the commissioners, cited three reasons for the approval of the tax increase: the voter turnout; the work of the Cumberland County Citizens for Fair Taxes, which raised about $40,000 for billboard ads and performed various other campaigns in support of the sales tax; and the decision by the commissioners to lower property taxes.
    However, Blackwell said he had initial concerns about the approval of the tax as the voting went late into the night.
    “I was there until the final returns came in,” said Blackwell,”and we worried when those first returns came in. But it turned out all right.”
    While the commissioners and folks involved in the county government were overjoyed, not everyone heralded the sales tax increase.
    James and Bonnie Craven, who live just off Hwy. 87 in the western part of the county, said it will cost them more in a time of economic uncertainty.
    “We don’t own property, we rent,” said Bonnie Craven. “So it’s just going to cost us more to buy the things we need when we go shopping. We just might have to go over the county line into Bladen County for some things we need.”
    The 1/4-cent tax increase would amount to about a penny on a $4 dollar purchase, or 25 cents on a $100 purchase. The tax would not be applied to food purchased at a grocery store.                                                          Election night was a double win for Commissioner Kenneth Edge, who not only saw the approval of the sales tax, but won the District 2 Democratic primary and will face three Republican challengers in November.
“It’s just a great honor for me,” said Edge. “Obviously, the voters have confidence in what I’ve done for them and the county, and they have confidence I will continue to do a good job as commissioner.”

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