In Today’s Herald: AFP & the BPT

Sunday’s editorial takes a look at the Lee County Americans for Prosperity’s efforts to undo the Sanford City Council’s Business Privilege Tax…

Americans for Prosperity, the grassroots organization which advocates limited govern­ment and eschews taxes of any kind, has created an online petition in an attempt to repeal the issue around which the creation of its Lee County organization was sparked: the City of Sanford’s business privilege tax.

We’re pretty sure it’s going to take a lot more than a petition.

Lee County AFP knows that as well. Opponents of the busi­ness privilege tax tried that tactic last time around, and the group — like the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce — was summarily dis­missed by the majority of the coun­cil in a 5-2 vote.

No matter how many thousands of folks sign the petition — a link to it can be found at the AFP’s North Carolina Web site, http://www.afpnc.org — repealing the tax will come down to swaying just a single council vote.

As you’ll recall, the business privilege tax was championed by council member Steve Brewer and then-city-manager Leonard Barefoot during last year’s budget preparation cycle. Barefoot initially suggested it as a way to raise an additional $250,000 in annual revenues for the city as an alternative to a property tax increase. Even though many municipalities have a business privi­lege tax, it was controversial — espe­cially considering the vagaries of the tax and its exemptions … not to mention the fact that city’s munici­pal golf course has been in the red by many more dollars than the tax would raise the last few years.

Despite the golf course’s impact on the budget, the city’s property tax rate has been stable and city services haven’t suffered, Barefoot rightly pointed out at the time. To maintain levels of service, addition revenues were needed.

That led to Brewer working harder for the new tax than any local elected official has on any issue in recent memory. An impressive effort, misguided as it was.

The lone new member on the council after November’s election, Charles Taylor, has been adamant in his opposition to the new tax, which is calculated based on gross receipts made by businesses within the city limits not exempt to the tax.

He used the issue to help defeat tax supporter Dan Harrington for the city’s Ward 2 seat. So assuming that fellow council members Mike Stone, an outspoken opponent of the tax, and Joe Martin don’t change their votes, there are at least three firm ballots against the tax. That makes AFP’s challenge pretty clear: muster enough noise against the business privilege tax to turn a 4-3 in favor of the tax to a 4-3 vote to repeal it.

AFP has many of the same issues with the tax that the chamber and business leaders have: it’s inequi­table, discriminatory and difficult to police. In its petition, the AFP also cites the city council’s “fundamen­tal lack of budgetary restraint,” the most recent of which would include the city’s free-spending travel reim­bursement policies, which we’ve documented.

AFP’s biggest challenge is to get the ear of council members. To do that, Lee County AFP Chairman Lloyd Jennings and tax opponents will have to help guide the council through a second look at tax, as well as alternatives. This time around, there’s likely to be more discussion about it.

And with even new City Manager Hal Hegwer admitting to The Herald that there’s not a tax out there that anybody would consider “fair,” there’s at least a chance that a vote this time around will be fair.

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