By Taylor Sisk
Over the next few months, the Orange County managerâ€™s office will conduct a campaign to educate voters on a proposed additional quarter-cent sales tax that will again appear on the ballot this November, and a consulting firm will be brought on board to assist with that effort.
Orange County residents voted down a quarter-cent sales-tax increase in last Novemberâ€™s election, with 51.24 percent of voters against it and 48.76 percent in favor.
The board of county commissioners voted in April to place a referendum for the tax on the ballot again, and later that month voted to dedicate any funds raised from the tax, should voters approve it, to economic development and education.
Fifty percent of potential funds would go to economic development and 50 percent to schools.
Assistant County Manager Gwen Harvey stressed that the countyâ€™s campaign will be â€œpurely to educate the public.â€ County government is prohibited from taking a position on the issue.
Harvey said that a team was formed after a quarter-cent increase was defeated in last Novemberâ€™s election to assess how well county government had done in educating voters about the tax. That team includes members of the countyâ€™s IT, public information and county managerâ€™s offices.
The county subsequently interviewed three local consulting firms to provide direction on how best to further educate the public about the tax for the fall election. Harvey said she hopes that a recommendation on which firm to hire will be made to the commissioners soon after they reconvene later this month.
Interim Assistant County Manager Michael Talbert said the county wants the firm to help determine the most appropriate media for providing information: â€œWhat is the best multi-media approach to that?â€
â€œWe want to encourage people to come to the polls with the information they need to make an informed decision,â€ Harvey said.
Information regarding the proposed tax is available now on the countyâ€™s website.
If approved, the tax would cost county residents an additional 25 cents on a $100 purchase; it wouldnâ€™t apply to groceries or medications. According to the county, the tax would raise approximately $2.5 million annually.
Potential uses suggested for economic-development proceeds include the expansion of the countyâ€™s Small Business Loan Program, innovation centers for new businesses and business-development grants.
Proceeds for education would be split evenly between the countyâ€™s two school systems.