BOCC takes pass on 751 South vote while pondering protest petition fate...
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 28, 2010

...while quarter-cent tax debate perks below public view

It's almost heretical, perhaps, to say that there might be a bigger story coming out of last night's BOCC meeting than the 751 South hearing and non-vote.

And, OK, a late agenda item added at a BOCCer's request may not ordinarily qualify as such momentous news. But on the other hand, I've been amazed at the lack of news coverage on this particular story. (Pro-jo's: if there was a story on this that came out while I was on one of my recent exoduses to the Deep South, my apologies.)

Joe_bowser The item in question? A quarter-cent sales tax proposal, which if the BOCC gives its okay could make its way to the ballot this November for a referendum.

If the idea of a local-option sales tax sounds familiar, it's because it's heretofore been floated with respect to a half-cent levy dedicated to transit.

But this wouldn't be the transit tax -- a measure which elected officials nervous about passage have said wouldn't appear before November 2011 at the soonest.

Instead, it would be a general levy to the County coffers, to the tune of almost $8 million per year in the full FY2012.

And to one Commissioner Joe Bowser at least, it's a tax that could provide bridge funding for the schools -- and just might set up an unexpected debate between transit and teachers.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There's been very little if any discussion on this in the public realm, but this item popped up on the agenda for this past Monday night.

It didn't make it to a vote on Monday, after the meeting hit the midnight hour and required a unanimous vote to be continued on past that hour per board policies. Ellen Reckhow refused to authorize the continuation of the meeting, leading to the meeting's scheduled resumption this Thursday evening, July 29. (Only for this and other agenda items -- the 751 South series is off until August 9.)

That lack of a continuation led to bickering between Bowser and Reckhow, bickering that showed some of the tensions underlying the debate.

Bowser was visibly angry at the deferral of the discussion, noting that the BOCC had to vote on the item by August 1 to get it on the fall ballot. He accused Reckhow of trying to stall the item out of a fear that its passage could impact the success of next year's transit tax.

Whether that (or the need for sleep) was the motivator, Bowser may not be far off on his assessment there.

After all, there's little doubt that elected officialdom wants a fall 2011 transit tax vote since it's an off-year cycle when political activists turn out; and in places like Durham Co. and Orange Co. and even the City of Raleigh, that's likely to favor the left.

This fall could see a more conservative turnout, given both typical mid-cycle backlash against the party holding the White House as well as the new right phenomenon seen in local politics.

But even with a sympathetic electorate, will voters be willing to vote for a tax increase two cycles in a row?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There's another interesting point about this tax discussion.

If your correspondent heard the discussion right -- and, God love my wife, someday she might let me get rid of our 2001-vintage original TiVo and get a device that isn't blessed with visual and audio static -- the tax was actually a Commissioner-added item to the agenda, proposed by Joe Bowser.

Now, Bowser's usually been a skeptic on taxes and fees, from his concern over rising water and sewer rates to his spring 2009 drilling of Durham Public Schools officials over the then-seemingly-modest budget cuts proposed.

But in this past spring, public outcry over school cuts and the marches on 200 E. Main led by the Umbrella Coalition and others led Bowser to become the biggest supporter perhaps of increasing property taxes to help meet school funding needs, even if the commish technically voted against the budget in opposition to a half-million dollars for new County positions.

Yet in his comments last night, Bowser made it clear -- a vote for the levy this fall would be a vote for local school funding.

If commissioners didn't support the levy, he opined, they'd essentially be voting to cut teacher funding, given this spring's difficulty and the end of federal stimulus dollars for DPS and other districts next spring.

Bowser has his fans as well as his distractors (and they don't seem to mix much.) But even the latter have never denied his political shrewdness.

And here, he's clearly thinking a year ahead on next year's school debate -- and just maybe, working to cement his positioning as a champion for schools funding and education.

This one ain't over. Stay tuned.



No tax increases for schools without impact fees on new growth.

Raymond G.

This is the same Joe Bowser that worked against the Prepared Meals Tax because it was effectively a "regressive sales tax" right? This is the same Joe Bowser that works with Lavonia Allison and the Committee on the Affairs of Some Black People to oppose a sales tax for transit while also supporting development without transit available to it in the far reaches of the county right? This is the same Joe Bowser that opposes all new taxes and impact fees right? This is the same Joe Bowser that opposes sales tax because it hurts poor people right? This is the same Joe Bowser that was run off of the Board only an election cycle ago right?
This is the same Joe Bowser. Irony apparently escapes him.


How can he say- on camera- "I ain't going to vote with you on nothin'" and think it's ok?

I am so happy that our city council is functional.


How can Ellen Reckhow end a meeting with two items left on the agenda? Plus citizens had pulled items on the consent agenda. Citizens and county staff waiting to ask and have questions answered on these items. I have seen city council meetings end as late as 1:30 AM. If she is too lazy to conduct the county's business in a timely manner then she should resign.
By the way the sales tax is a good ideal going to a good cause. I would support it for additional revenue to DPS. We have to be proactive in creating new revenue streams for our schools.


I hope Becky makes that library meeting that isn't going to be held on Thursday...was that her husband shaking his head??

Must have been 20 minutes getting everyone's schedule in line, 'cause Joe ain't votin' for nothin' for Ellen tonight!

What a circus!


The future of transit in Durham County now rests in the hands of Joe Bowser.


And what a hypocrite he's proved to be.


"How can Ellen Reckhow end a meeting with two items left on the agenda?"

I'm guessing that's because the by-laws of the BoCC require a unanimous vote to continue meetings past midnight. Which neither Chair Page, Commissioner Bowser, nor Attorney Siler seemed to be aware of, until Siler reviewed his books.

How can Joe Bowser attempt to call for a vote on a rezoning application while the status of the protest petition remains unresolved?

Nobody could have predicted that the results of the last election would lead to a dysfunctional Board of County Commissioners.


@barry: *Many* people predicted a dysfunctional board after the last election. And their fears have been borne out.


Quite right, Thomas. Bowser was a disaster during his last term--so his ongoing shenanigans this term shouldn't surprise anyone. Last night's meeting was one of the poorest examples of leadership and decorum this motley crew has pulled off yet. I can hardly wait for the next election. At least 3 of the crew need to go.


if someone has tivo footage of last nights meeting, please keep it around. a viral youtube of bowser's greatest tomfoolery would be great to pass around at the next election cycle.


The video is posted on the County's website for the whole world to see...

Ed Harrison

The referendum on the sales tax now authorized for the ballot in Orange County this fall was headline news for a month. Its source was the (relatively new) county manager, Frank Clifton, who'd come to the Triangle from a coastal county with substantially lower property tax rate. By the standards of Orange County (especially southeastern OC), Durham Co. has a low tax rate. ¶You might ask some in "elected officialdom" if [we] want the transit referendum in Fall 2010 "since it's an off-year cycle when political activists turn out; and in places like Durham Co. and Orange Co. and even the City of Raleigh, that's likely to favor the left." The date will be a topic of discussion at tomorrow's Triangle Transit board meeting.


I'm sick of these little sales tax bumps and fee increases--which take money out of my pocket and give me no break for it. I wish they would all grow a pair and raise the property tax rates. At least we get a tax deduction for property tax increases.

Steve Bocckino


Maybe Ellen Reckhow thought it wasn't a great idea to talk about a tax increase in the dead of night. Reminds me of the time when Bowser orchestrated the midnight firing of Mike Ruffin.

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