Vote ‘Yes’ for education sales tax

jacksonBy David Belcher • Guest Columnist

Voters in Jackson County will have the opportunity on Tuesday, June 7, to take an important step toward addressing some significant infrastructure problems being faced by Southwestern Community College and Jackson County Public Schools.

On the ballot, in addition to our district’s congressional candidates, will be a referendum on a proposed one-quarter of one percent increase in the local sales tax. The additional source of revenue would be used to allow SCC to begin tackling nearly $32 million in construction, renovation, and repair projects identified by the college’s recent master plan and to help the county school system deal with its estimated $22 million of infrastructure needs. 

As chancellor of Western Carolina University, I strongly endorse the approval of this proposal. As the leader of an institution of higher education, I have seen firsthand the negative impacts on the quality of teaching and learning that accompany crumbling infrastructure. Faculty and staff do tremendous work in the facilities they have, but think of what they could do with the resources of 21st-century classrooms, laboratories, and other facilities. 

Modern-age facilities and related resources will strengthen education in Jackson and surrounding counties, which ultimately will benefit WCU. New students who come to our university from the region — both first-year students from the Jackson County Public Schools and transfer students from SCC — will arrive better prepared for the rigors of a university education. Our College of Education and Allied Professions works closely with our local schools, and improved infrastructure will further their efforts in training future teachers, principals, and superintendents. We have close ties with SCC — through dual enrollment programs, articulation agreements, and collaborative partnerships. Approval of this proposal will strengthen those partnerships and enhance education opportunities in the communities that SCC and WCU serve. 

Furthermore, the impact of an additional quarter-cent sales tax on residents of Jackson County would be negligible. For example, a $100 purchase would mean only an additional 25 cents in local sales tax, while a resident spending $1,000 would pay only an additional $2.50 in local sales tax. The impact on Southwestern Community College and the Jackson County Public School system, however, would be tremendous. The extra one-fourth of a penny sales tax would generate an estimated $1.2 million annually — all of it to be allocated to our county community college and public school system. 

I believe that a vote “yes” is a vote for the good of the students of the Jackson County Public School System, Southwestern Community College, and Western Carolina University. After all, many of the county school system’s students become SCC students, and many SCC students become WCU’s students. Voter approval of the one-fourth of a penny referendum is a minimal, but wise, investment that would pay dividends for years to come for Jackson County, its young people, and its future.

(David Belcher is chancellor of Western Carolina University.)

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