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County Debates Tax Hike For Arts, But Some Are Wary

George Dunlap

Mecklenburg Commissioners Tuesday discussed a proposal to increase the sales tax by a quarter-cent to primarily fund the arts.

The Arts and Science Council proposed earlier this year raising the sales tax to help offset a decline in private donations. A quarter-cent increase in the sales tax would generate about $50 million a year.

Under a proposal supported by board chairman George Dunlap, nearly half of the money - $25 million - would go to the arts. 

Eight million would go to education and $15 million to parks and greenways. The county’s six towns would receive $2.5 million a year, split among them.

Some commissioners – like Pat Cotham – were skeptical as to whether the public would support the tax hike.

Others – like Vice Chair Elaine Powell – were OK with the idea of a higher sales tax, but wanted the money distributed differently.

"I would support, you know, changing the distribution with more dollars for parks and greenways," she said. "And some more dollars for education. I’ve been listening to community input for 30 years, every single time that I hear input, number one is education."

Dunlap said the increased arts funding would help improve the city’s economic mobility.

"People think that just getting a job is the only way out," he said. "They don’t look at being an artist as having a job. Because that’s a way out. There are people who get out because of the arts. And so we have to think about that. And I wanted people to understand that part of this funding is arts education."

Commissioners decided to continue the discussion at a workshop next Tuesday. If they support the sales tax increase, it would be placed on the ballot for voters to decide, probably in November.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.