I believe the Union County Board of Commissioners received some bad advice the other day from its planning board when it comes to funding transportation projects.
The planning board vetted the Union County 2050 Comprehensive Plan last month, recommending it with one notable exception: not supporting a quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects.
Granted, the plan is only a guide for the next 30 years. It may not include the recommendation for a sales tax increase, but commissioners can still opt to place a referendum on the ballot for residents to decide.
I highly recommend they do so – as soon as possible.
Right now, Union County contributes $100,000 toward intersection improvements. Passing a quarter-cent sales tax could generate upwards of $5 million annually to our road woes.
Transportation Planner Bjorn Hansen told the planning board last month that the sales tax revenue would likely be paired with funding from the N.C. Department of Transportation, municipalities and potentially private developers.
“I couldn't imagine a scenario where Union County would pay for a project completely on its own, but it would help us grow the pot, so to speak, to improve intersections and widen sections of roads,” Hansen told the planning board.
What do you think is the number one concern of residents in Union County? Survey says … traffic congestion!
The planning board's objections to the tax could be chalked up to a mistrust in government.
“The first concern is that the quarter-cent sales tax would be initially to fund transportation projects – any board of commissioners at any time could reallocate those funds at their choosing,” Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Thomas said during last month's meeting. “The other concern is my personal experience with the N.C. Department of Transportation. They move on their schedule with what they deem to be important.”
Thomas pointed to constant construction delays with N.C. 16.
The NCDOT can be improved. There was a time when pet projects closer to Raleigh were given the green light for funding over more worthy projects in the Charlotte region. Former N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley shepherded a bill through the N.C. General Assembly to Gov. Pat McCrory's desk that took the politics out of the funding process and put the emphasis on formulas.
I'm not trying to villainize the planning board, but I think they're looking at this from the wrong lens.
A quarter-cent sales tax is just another tool Union County can use to improve its roads. Why would we want one less tool to help us fix a problem that citizens universally complain about?
Want to weigh in?
The proposed Union County 2050 Comprehensive Plan consists of several strategies, including establishing a litter task force, updating stormwater standards, increasing open space requirements for rural areas, funding broadband expansion and adopted a new land use plan. Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the plan on June 7.