Groups aim to defeat tripling of transfer tax

Realtors and home builders from across the state have given more than $100,000 to defeat five WNC counties’ attempts to raise taxes.

The opponents have local allies in their fight to persuade voters not to triple the tax on real estate sales — and not all of them are in the housing industry.

The recorded voice of Don Swanson, a retired securities executive in Macon County, has reached the ears of at least 765 of the county’s Republicans. His robo-call told residents that the “‘home tax’ increase” would “adversely affect all property owners, both buyers and sellers, in the county.”

Opponents of increasing the land transfer tax are giving voters an earful in 15 counties across the state where the tax is on the ballot Tuesday.

That’s while supporters in some counties have used speeches, handouts and signs to rally support for raising taxes.

If money and effort decide the outcome of the elections, the tax increase has little chance in some Western North Carolina counties.

Realtors and home builders have given more than $30,000 in Macon, $27,000 in Rutherford and $10,000 each in Graham and Swain counties, plus at least $23,000 in Henderson County, where full totals were not available.

Opponents say the yard signs, mailings, phone calls, and radio and newspaper ads are getting through to voters.

“The chatter has been almost exclusively negative,” Swanson said.

Then again, the campaign could backfire.

“I honestly think that the overly aggressive campaign by the Realtors — all the money, all the mailings and the calls into the homes — I think it’s having a negative, reverse reaction,” said Bill Moyer, chairman of the Henderson board of commissioners.

Campaigning on both sides
County governments aren’t just waiting for their opponents to trip themselves up.

Henderson officials have limited themselves to making speeches and issuing flyers outlining the issue, Moyer said.

But in Swain County, a political committee has formed to support the tax increase.

Signs shout from lawns to “vote yes for our kids,” Swain board Chairman Glenn Jones said, and the group has phoned voters.

County leaders may spend taxpayer money to explain the issue to voters but not on such advocacy.

Supporters in Swain have not yet filed disclosure forms showing their fundraising.

Opponents across WNC have received help from FreedomWorks, the national conservative group that is working with Swanson in Macon.

Bill Dills and other Swain residents have put up yard signs and sent out mailers.

The response has been heartening, Dills said, but that doesn’t guarantee a win.

“They’re opposed to it,” he said, “but if they don’t go vote, that doesn’t do you a lot of good.”

The state Realtors and homebuilders associations are betting their money can make a difference in defeating a tax they say would depress an already ailing housing market.

The two groups contributed at least $97,000, while local real estate agents kicked in at least $5,000, according to the documents available from the five counties.

Do counties need the money?
Jones said Swain needs the added tax revenue as it prepares to enlarge the high school — so crowded that closets have been removed to add classroom space — and build another school adjacent to it.

Hearing such complaints about population outpacing infrastructure persuaded the General Assembly this year to let counties seek voter approval to raise either the sales tax by a quarter-cent or the transfer tax from 0.2 percent to 0.6 percent of a property’s selling price.

Rutherford and Graham counties have put both taxes to voters.

The others in WNC have only the transfer tax on the ballot.

Counties have solid cash reserves, think tank says
A conservative think tank says counties could get by just fine without raising the taxes.

The Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation released a series of reports this fall, one for each county trying a transfer tax vote, that say counties have solid cash reserves and can expect to take in enough taxes from their booming populations to remain flush in the future.

The foundation said Macon County has cash reserves of nearly $19 million, 37 percent of its budget.

Henderson County’s growth has paid for itself, the reports said, with revenues per person increasing faster than inflation over the past five years.

Funding needed for students, official says
Moyer said the report on Henderson is “dead wrong,” and the county has fallen too far behind in school construction to handle its surging student population.

“When you’re playing catch-up, it’s unrealistic to think you’re going to live off your growth,” he said.

There’s one point on which Moyer agrees with a member of the John Locke staff.

With no countywide candidates on ballots, most people may see little reason to vote unless they are fired up about a tax hike, said Chad Adams, the foundation’s vice president for development.

They disagree in predicting whether that factor will win the day.

“I think there’s a very good chance that almost all of these may go down,” Adams said.

Ballot language
Real property transfer tax at the rate of up to four-tenths (0.4 percent) of value or consideration. FOR or AGAINST.