Rocky Mount backs off plan for cigarette tax

The struggling economy and a petition swayed the Rocky Mount Town Council to abandon a 10-cents-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes.

The council unanimously agreed Monday not to levy the cigarette tax. It also approved the town’s $9.8 million 2010-11 operating budget.

“It’s a tough time out here,” said Councilman Robert Strickler. He said he worried what the cigarette tax could do to businesses.

Only one person spoke against the cigarette tax at a public hearing on the budget last week. Business owner Johnny Singleton also submitted a petition with about 500 signatures of town and county residents against the tax.

It was because of that petition that Councilman Jerry Greer said he could not vote for the cigarette tax.

Town Manager James Ervin estimated that the tax would raise an additional $125,000 in revenue for the town. It was part of a solution to make up for an estimated $800,000 deficit the town faces next fiscal year. Another option included raising water and sewer rates, but council members took that option off the table last month.

To make up for the revenue, Ervin said the town could continue to discuss budget options, use any funds left over from the 2009-10 fiscal year or take the money from the general fund balance.

Councilman Gregg Walker said he was not comfortable implementing the tax if the money could be found elsewhere, as in carryover funds.

Just how much will be carried over from the current fiscal year won’t be known until September, after the annual audit, Ervin said, but about $600,000 was carried over from last year.

The budget approved by the town council includes large cuts to nonprofit groups, no pay raises for town employees and belt-tightening for each department. Holiday bonuses for employees, which total $30,000, were left in the budget but will be reconsidered later in the year, the council decided Monday.

In other business, the council voted to give $7,000, originally set aside for Goodwill Industries of the Valleys, to a local group providing programs to adults with mental disabilities.

Rising Opportunities now runs the program Didlake Inc., which started in 2005 and continues to operate at the facility on Franklin Street. It has been working on its state license as well as fundraising.

Also, Councilmen Roger Seale and John Lester were recognized for their years of service on the council. Seale decided not to run for another term, and Lester did not receive enough votes in last month’s election to return to the council for another term.

Starting in July, Bobby Cundiff and Robert Moyer will join the seven-member council.


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