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County Commissioners express reservations about transit tax

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Several Mecklenburg County commissioners say they're not convinced pushing for the authority to raise a second half-cent sales tax is a good idea right now. Yesterday, commissioners had their first group discussion about whether to ask state lawmakers for the ability to levy another sales tax for transit.

About 35 people showed up carrying signs that read "Enough is Enough" and "Tax Cuts Now." Bob Watson was one of them. "They told us we had enough tax to pay for it and now we need more tax," said Watson. Twelve years ago the state gave Mecklenburg County the authority to levy a half-cent sales tax for transit, if local voters said 'yes.' And now other communities in North Carolina want to do the same.

Last week, the state House approved a bill that would allow large urban areas to put the question to voters. Mecklenburg County wasn't included on the list. But as revenue from the county's first half-cent transit tax continues to decline, some local officials see this bill as a chance to ask for a second helping.

All six county commissioners who attended the meeting voiced reservations about the plan. Commissioner Bill James said he doesn't support it. "We don't have enough money for schools. We don't have enough money for criminal justice. We don't have enough money for parks and rec. So there are tough choices to be made. So why would we take transit when we have already told voters we would live within our means?" said James.

The five other commissioners said they were uncomfortable even asking for the authority to raise a tax when budgets are so tight. Commissioner Dan Murrey said as a strong advocate for public transit this is not an easy call. "But the reality is I'm also a big advocate for fiscal responsibility. We've been struggling to reset our priorities in the county and it's kind of hard to have anything after we spent five months re-calibrating our appetite. It's kind of tough to have anything jump ahead of the priorities for us," said Murrey.

Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts wasn't at the meeting last night. She has said Mecklenburg County should be included in the bill, even though raising another half-cent sales tax may not come to a vote here, at least any time soon.