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Buncombe County General Election Marks Beginning Of Election Year

by Nathan Gower, staff writer

On Tuesday Nov. 8, voters in Buncombe County passed a quarter-penny sales tax increase. This sole ballot measure in the county’s general election passed by a margin of only 492 votes.

The resolution will add one quarter-penny in sales tax to consumer goods purchased within Buncombe County. Many items are exempt from the tax increase, including personal services, mortgage payments, and medicinal prescriptions.

First proposed by President of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College Hank Dunn, the resolution explicitly states revenue from this tax increase “will be used exclusively for the stated capital improvement needs of [AB Tech].”

AB Tech’s need for increased funding is a complex and multifaceted issue.

The community college has seen an increased enrollment of nearly 45% in the past decade. Per a 2010 budget report, the college enrolled 26,054 unduplicated students. It is expected that this number could rise well past 30,000 within another 10 years.

This increase in enrollment has been disproportionate with the college’s revenue stream: the college’s operating budget is $55.5 million according to that same report, while expenses are just one million dollars below that figure.

To oversimplify the economics of the issue, this essentially gives the college one million dollars annually to spend on infrastructural improvements. This figure is drastically shy of what is necessary for proposed developments, such as an increase in available parking or the construction and expansion of classrooms.

Some critics have asked why the burden of infrastructural improvements fell upon the taxpayer? The answer is, again, complex but is worth clarifying.

The North Carolina General Assembly mandates a statewide tuition rate for community colleges. This means that the traditional route for a college to increase revenue, raising tuition rates, cannot be undertaken.

Additionally, it is the county governments’ responsibility to fund infrastructural development, which community colleges fall under per North Carolina law. For AB Tech to receive the funds for their needed infrastructural improvements, funding must come from the county government.

And what of the taxpayer? It is estimated that the average family of four will only see an annual contribution of $45. Even in these times of economic difficulty, that figure is low, and furthermore, the sales tax increase is meant largely to target tourists.

Even with these criticisms, resolution language states that the sales tax increase will have its sunset in 2029, with an anticipated final total of $129,872,000 having been collected.

But what is most significant about the entirety of this complicated issue is that it begins the election year. In almost exactly one year’s time, voters will elect or reelect, amongst other positions, the President of the United States.

Furthermore, and of tremendous significance on campus, is what the election implicates for students of Warren Wilson College.

Any student who lives on campus may register to vote in the State of North Carolina, pending they have lived here at least 30 days. It is predicted that North Carolina will be a swing state in the 2012 presidential election, and the precinct we fall under is notorious for swinging local elections. The primary election in North Carolina is even sooner, being held this May.

Students have already begun voter registration drives, and many more are in the process of being planned at this time. Students of the Spirituality and Social Justice Crew are in the preliminary stages of such drives, and a Political Union is in the process of being established that would provide a forum for students to be engaged within the political process.

I urge students to involve themselves, as disgruntled as they may be, with the political process as soon as possible. As has hopefully been made clear, the issues are far more complex than they first appear. Despite criticisms of the electoral process, we are still fortunate to be bestowed voting rights through our citizenship. It is with tremendous urgency that I implore you to exercise those rights.

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