Officials Consider Part Tax

The Guilford County commissioners could decide this week whether the Triad’s regional bus service should continue and whether commuter trains are in the area’s future.

The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation will ask the commissioners to extend their approval of a 5 percent tax on rental cars. PART uses the money primarily to run buses to Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem. It also runs other transportation programs and would like to start saving for a commuter rail system.

PART cannot levy the tax without the commissioners’ consent. The board approved a one-year trial last year, and PART wants the approval extended.

Forsyth County also permits the rental tax, but will only continue it as long as Guilford County does.

Without the tax, PART could go out of business.

The tax passed easily last year, but with two pro-PART commissioners now out of office, supporters and opponents could make the vote close with successful lobbying.

PART presented information to the commissioners last week showing its bus service has been successful and that riders want the service expanded. It told commissioners it has used the tax money to attract state and federal money.

Car rental companies are continuing to fight the tax. They are working harder this time to convince commissioners the tax is a burden on local residents.

“It’s not a car rental problem,” said Mark Schaffer, a regional vice president for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. “It’s a taxation problem.”

The local chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a national organization promoting lower taxes, started meeting with commissioners last week and asking them to rescind the tax.

“It’s not that we’re against mass transit,” said member Allen Page of Elon. “We feel it’s an unfair tax.”

It’s unfair, he said, because PART is taxing rental companies while competing against them for business by renting vans for car pools.

The debate continues to center on who is paying the tax – visitors who rent cars or local residents who rent cars to take trips or drive while their vehicles are in the shop.

Citizens for a Sound Economy contends PART has collected at least half of the taxes away from Piedmont Triad International Airport, and presumes at least some of those taxes were paid by local residents.

Schaffer would not provide information about how his company’s rentals compared before and after the tax. He said it is having an impact because the industry is so competitive, especially during the tough economic times. In the past year, Alamo Rent A Car closed some locations, he said, and smaller renters consolidated.

Rental companies in Guilford and Forsyth counties brought in about $3 million less between July and December 2002 than during the same six months in 2001, prior to the tax, according to information PART provided to the commissioners. That’s a difference of about 14 percent.

If the commissioners grant their approval, PART will hold a public hearing at 8:30 a.m. March 12 at the Piedmont Triad Partnership in Greensboro, and then would make the final decision of whether to continue the tax.

There is almost no chance the authority would stop the tax at that point because it would be putting itself out of business and wasting a $600,000 bus terminal it is building on Regional Road.