Economic and Community Development
Infrastructure Part 3: Durham
Guest Post - John White, Director of Public Policy, Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
Earlier this year, I was asked to take part in a webinar to discuss our involvement and the passage of a ½ cent sales tax for transit. While awaiting my turn to present on the issue, I listened to others familiar with the topic as they advised on how to best prepare for a ballot issue campaign. One person recommended having no less than $100K to fund campaign efforts, while another referenced needing at least a year to prepare, plan and educate the public on your issue. As I listened to these two individuals talk, I thought to myself this ought to be interesting….
In 2008, the North Carolina General Assembly passed enabling legislation allowing 94 counties the opportunity to charge & use a ¼ cent sales tax. The legislation also provided Durham, Orange and Wake County’s, also known as the Triangle, the opportunity to charge & use a ½ cent sales tax, for transit enhancements, with voter approval. Since 2009, the Durham Chamber and surrounding chambers have been at the table discussing this issue with the NC Dept. of Transportation as well as our elected officials at the state and local level. Unlike the other chambers, the Durham Chamber of Commerce is the only Chamber in the Triangle that has a dedicated committee to the topic of Transportation. In the summer of 2011, the Durham Board of County Commissioners decided to put this issue on the November 2011 ballot for voters to decide on. Given the Chambers role and attention to transit issues, the Durham Chamber stepped up and took the lead in organizing a campaign committee. I staffed the Durham Transit Campaign Committee and organized efforts of which led to the passage of the transit referendum. Having received 60.1% support for this ballot measure, to date, Durham is the only county that has successfully passed the ½ cent sales tax for transit within the Triangle region and the second in the State of N.C. (Mecklenburg County, 2007).
At last it was my turn to speak to Durham’s success during the webinar. After providing an abbreviated timeline of events, I informed the audience that the Durham Transit Campaign Committee, led by the Durham Chamber of Commerce, had roughly four months to organize. We did not raise over $50K.
Every community is different and while we can use lessons learned in other areas, it doesn’t mean that information is translatable to every community. Chambers are institutions that by design are forced to know business interest, community interest as well as who the players are within our respective communities. I’m glad to say that the Durham Chamber of Commerce understands how important this is and has been able to benefit from extending ourselves outside of the traditional box of business. Why should this example matter to business community? Since our success with this campaign, our creditability as an organization has risen along with the communities desire to work with the business community. Sure, people still come to us to sponsor most of everything. Nonetheless, we take this as part of the territory, knowing that in the end we’ve made more people aware of what we are capable of doing and the continual impact and reach chambers of commerce have!