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Op-Ed: AMEXCAN responds to County Commissioner James


Response to comments made by County Commissioner Eugene James regarding sales tax and the Latino population in Pitt County.
The Association of Mexicans in North Carolina (AMEXCAN) is a local non-profit organization designed to promote and integrate the Latino community throughout eastern North Carolina. An article was recently brought to our attention regarding options for funding educational programs within the county.  The Daily Reflector published an article on March 31 regarding petitioning to the NC General Assembly to allow counties the option of installing a local sales tax specifically designed to support public schools.
According to County Commissioner Eugene James, constituents say that a sales tax is the fairest form of taxing because not everyone owns property and therefore cannot be taxed.  The commissioner then goes on to say that the Latino community has a quite sizable population in the school system, yet the majority of this population does not pay property tax.
According to the Reflector, Commissioner James specifically stated that “It (tax money) has to come from the Mexicans. They are making money, let them pay their share.”
We would like to first respond to the term ‘Mexican’ which in this case was used to describe the Latino population as a whole in Pitt County.  Using the world’s largest individual-level population database, the Pew Research Center found that 52% of North Carolina residents of Hispanic ethnicity are native-born U.S. Citizens.  Furthermore, Pitt County especially is home to a plethora of Hispanic ethnicities, containing a significant Caribbean and Central American community as well.  To consider everyone of Latino descent to be ‘Mexican’ constitutes a severe lack of understanding regarding the actual population demographics of such a large community.  It is more disheartening when this lack of understanding comes from actual representatives of the residents of Pitt County.
Commissioner James also insinuates a lack of civic participation within the Latino community in regard to taxes, which is simply not true.  According to a recent study by the Kenan Institute, a UNC-Chapel Hill research institution, Hispanics annually contribute about $756 million in taxes to the state of North Carolina.  Although these figures are not county-specific, it is important to note the overall contribution made by the Latino population to state programs, many of which this population cannot even utilize despite its significant contribution to the tax system.
The arguments made here do not focus on the debate between the type of taxing necessary to earn funds in regard to improving the county school system.  Rather, we are attempting to bring to light the thoughts and feelings of the Latino population by some local government officials.  It is one based on a true lack of understanding regarding the benefits that the Latino population actually provides to the community, as well as the needs that many individuals within this population face on a day-to-day basis.
The comments made by Commissioner James denote a form of ignorance seen all too frequently throughout the region.  However, the word ignorance does not imply ‘stupidity’ or the inability to comprehend an idea, merely the lack of understanding regarding a particular subject.  This implies, then, that individuals who are ignorant regarding the level of economic support provided to the state by the Latino population, as well as the level of underrepresentation of this population, can change that ignorance into understanding.  With a new understanding of the situation, we can begin to integrate rather than isolate such an economically vital community.
AMEXCAN hopes to work closely now and in the future with any individuals or institutions willing to provide health and educational support to the Latino population of eastern North Carolina, as well as advocate on behalf for the Latino population in an effort to improve understanding between local government officials and a vibrant, growing Latino community.
We can bring about the change needed to properly integrate and work together with all minority populations, but it begins with making an effort to understand.
Ryan J. Cobey
Representative, Association of Mexicans in North Carolina
Citizen, Pitt County, NC

One Response

  1. Bob Edwards says:

    Thank you for this response to recent comments by Commissioner James about the contributions of Mexican-American residents to our county. Commissioner James’ claim that certain residents of Pitt County do not contribute to the public schools because they are not property owners also needs to be countered. Mr. James echos a strongly held belief that renters do not pay property tax, and therefore do not financially support the public schools. If you drive-by this issue at 70 miles per hour all you notice is that property owners are the ones who send a check directly to the Pitt County Tax Collector so property owners must be footing the entire public school bill while all renters a allowed to hitch a free ride to a high school diploma.

    Slow down to 35 mph or so and think about common sense economics of rental property. Consider the tenants in a duplex I own. In setting the rent, I take into account mortgage payments, insurance costs, repairs, maintenance, HOA fees and property tax. Like all landlords I pass the cost of property tax on to my tenants as part of the rent. The market price of rent in Greenville makes this possible because all landlords do this. Moreover, I claim those taxes as a deduction from income when filing federal and state tax returns. These practices are legal and the way the rental market works. I’m not arguing against either of them.

    What I am arguing against is the widespread, moralistic assumption that renters do not contribute to the public schools because they are not the ones actually writing checks to the county. The cost of property tax is passed on to renters just as surely as increases in the price of a barrel of oil make their way into the price per gallon at the pump. It’s time we recognize that renters are full contributors to the public good in Pitt County whether they are Latinos, African Americans, or ECU students. Everyone who lives here, property owners and renters alike, contributes supporting the public schools because one way or another we all contribute to paying property taxes.

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