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Two Tax Measures Set for Nov. 8 Durham County Election

Two Tax Measures Set for Nov. 8 Durham County Election

Early voting begins Thursday, Oct. 20

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Durham, NC - Off-year local elections are the poor stepchild of American political activity, but the upcoming Durham County election on Nov. 8 have two tax measures that might attract wider than normal voter interest.

Two separate resolutions would levy a local sales tax of 1/2 cent for transit improvements, including additional bus hours and construction of commuter rail service, and a tax of 1/4 cent for Durham Public Schools (DPS), Durham Technical Community College, county pre-K programs and debt service on DPS buildings.

The ballot also includes the race for city mayor and for three at-large seats on the Durham City Council. The mayor's race features incumbent William Bell versus challenger Sylvester Williams.

The transit tax is expected to raise $17.2 million in the first year, with collection beginning in April 2012. According to supporters, the funds collected add an extra 25,000 bus hours in the first full year of implementation.

Down the road, the tax revenues will construct commuter rail service from Durham through Research Triangle Park to eastern Wake County by 2018. Finally, light rail will be constructed to run from just east of downtown Durham to UNC Hospitals by 2024.

The school tax will raise approximately $9.2 million in the first year with more than $6 million of the funds going to DPS.

Supporters say both measures are important to the future of the county. Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham, said in a letter to the Durham Herald-Sun that the transit tax will enable Durham to "think big" at a critical time in the economy.

"For Durham to reach its potential, actions need to be taken today to solve our looming transportation problems -- even if our action means taking the lead before our neighbors. If we do not act, Durham and the Triangle may face the prospect of becoming another Los Angeles, where the car is king and congestion abounds. Our regional transportation status quo will simply not serve us for the long term," Kalkhof said.

But opposition has come from several sources, including the Durham County Republican Party, which is urging voters to vote no on both measures. In a statement released over the weekend, the party challenged the value of additional bus lines and light rail commuter service and called the ¼ cent tax "a general revenue tax hike masquerading as education funding."

Early voting begins Oct. 20. Duke officials encourage all employees to vote but note the university has a policy defining acceptable political behavior on the job and on campus.

"We encourage faculty, staff and students to actively participate in the civic life of the community," said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.   "Voting is the most direct way in which every citizen can make a difference."

Schoenfeld noted that as a non-profit, tax-exempt entity, Duke must abide by federal and state laws prohibiting the use of its facilities, services or personnel to promote or support individuals or organizations campaigning for public office.  These laws prohibit Duke University, and any of its related entities, from contributing to or supporting political candidates or parties.  The restrictions on political activity do not apply to any employee acting as an individual, on their own time and using personal resources. 

"Understanding the basic rules helps promote vibrant discussions on campus about candidates and political issues without violating the law," he added.

For more information about the tax measures, see the Durham County Government website.

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