I got an emailed question yesterday, which I will answer below:
Q1) Can a county commissioners create a special recreational tax district to fund a civic center that provides functions such as: a gym, weight rooms, exercise rooms, meeting rooms, and an indoor pool.
Q2) If they can, do we have to have a referendum or just a vote of the county commissioners?
ANSWER: Yes. a county can create a special tax district for recreation, see below. There is no provision for a referendum, unless the county wants to exempt the tax from the $1.50 per $100.00 rate limit. A mailed notice and a public hearing is required, if the process starts now the district can be established as early as 7/1/2008 with the tax starting with the 2008-2009 fiscal year. The full statutes involved are here.
In fact, there are nine types of special districts any county can create under a provision of the State Constitution enacted in 1969 (Article V, Section 2(4)) . (list of the types of districts and excerpts of the statutes applicable to county recreation districts are below the fold)
TYPES OF COUNTY SERVICE DISTRICTS:
(1) Beach erosion control and flood and hurricane protection works.
(2) Fire protection.
(4) Sewage collection and disposal systems of all types, including septic tank systems or other on‑site collection or disposal facilities or systems.
(5) Solid waste collection and disposal systems.
(6) Water supply and distribution systems.
(7) Ambulance and rescue.
(8) Watershed improvement projects, including but not limited to watershed improvement projects as defined in Chapter 139 of the General Statutes; drainage projects, including but not limited to the drainage projects provided for by Chapter 156 of the General Statutes; and water resources development projects, including but not limited to the federal water resources development projects provided for by Article 21 of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes.
STATUTES USED TO CREATE A COUNTY RECREATION SERVICE DISTRICT
County Service Districts; …..
Part 1. County Service Districts.
§ 153A‑300. Title; effective date.
This Article may be cited as “The County Service District Act of 1973,” and is enacted pursuant to Article V, Sec. 2(4) of the Constitution of North Carolina, effective July 1, 1973.
§ 153A‑301. Purposes for which districts may be established.
(a) The board of commissioners of any county may define any number of service districts in order to finance, provide, or maintain for the districts one or more of the following services, facilities and functions in addition to or to a greater extent than those financed, provided or maintained for the entire county:
§ 153A‑302. Definition of service districts.
(a) Standards. – In determining whether to establish a proposed service district, the board of commissioners shall consider all of the following:
(1) The resident or seasonal population and population density of the proposed district.
(2) The appraised value of property subject to taxation in the proposed district.
(3) The present tax rates of the county and any cities or special districts in which the district or any portion thereof is located.
(4) The ability of the proposed district to sustain the additional taxes necessary to provide the services planned for the district.
(5) If it is proposed to furnish water, sewer, or solid waste collection services in the district, the probable net revenues of the projects to be financed and the extent to which the services will be self‑supporting.
(6) Any other matters that the commissioners believe to have a bearing on whether the district should be established.
(a1) Findings. – The board of commissioners may establish a service district if, upon the information and evidence it receives, the board finds that all of the following apply:
(1) There is a demonstrable need for providing in the district one or more of the services listed in G.S. 153A‑301.
(2) It is impossible or impracticable to provide those services on a countywide basis.
(3) It is economically feasible to provide the proposed services in the district without unreasonable or burdensome annual tax levies.
(4) There is a demonstrable demand for the proposed services by persons residing in the district.
Territory lying within the corporate limits of a city or sanitary district may not be included unless the governing body of the city or sanitary district agrees by resolution to such inclusion.
(b) Report. – Before the public hearing required by subsection (c), the board of commissioners shall cause to be prepared a report containing:
(1) A map of the proposed district, showing its proposed boundaries;
(2) A statement showing that the proposed district meets the standards set out in subsection (a); and
(3) A plan for providing one or more of the services listed in G.S. 153A‑301 to the district.
The report shall be available for public inspection in the office of the clerk to the board for at least four weeks before the date of the public hearing.
(c) Hearing and Notice. – The board of commissioners shall hold a public hearing before adopting any resolution defining a new service district under this section. Notice of the hearing shall state the date, hour, and place of the hearing and its subject, and shall include a map of the proposed district and a statement that the report required by subsection (b) is available for public inspection in the office of the clerk to the board. The notice shall be published at least once not less than one week before the date of the hearing. In addition, it shall be mailed at least four weeks before the date of the hearing by any class of U.S. mail which is fully prepaid to the owners as shown by the county tax records as of the preceding January 1 (and at the address shown thereon) of all property located within the proposed district. The person designated by the board to mail the notice shall certify to the board that the mailing has been completed and his certificate is conclusive in the absence of fraud.
(d) Effective Date. – The resolution defining a service district shall take effect at the beginning of a fiscal year commencing after its passage, as determined by the board of commissioners.
§ 153A‑305. Required provision or maintenance of services.
(a) New District. – When a county defines a new service district, it shall provide, maintain, or let contracts for the services for which the residents of the district are being taxed within a reasonable time, not to exceed one year, after the effective date of the definition of the district.
§ 153A‑307. Taxes authorized; rate limitation.
A county may levy property taxes within defined service districts in addition to those levied throughout the county, in order to finance, provide or maintain for the districts services provided therein in addition to or to a greater extent than those financed, provided or maintained for the entire county. In addition, a county may allocate to a service district any other revenues whose use is not otherwise restricted by law.
Property subject to taxation in a newly established district or in an area annexed to an existing district is that subject to taxation by the county as of the preceding January 1.
Property taxes may not be levied within any district established pursuant to this Article in excess of a rate on each one hundred dollars ($100.00) value of property subject to taxation which, when added to the rate levied countywide for purposes subject to the rate limitation, would exceed the rate limitation established in G.S. 153A‑ 149(c), unless the portion of the rate in excess of this limitation is submitted to and approved by a majority of the qualified voters residing within the district. Any referendum held pursuant to this paragraph shall be held and conducted as provided in G.S. 153A‑149.
§ 153A‑308. Bonds authorized.
A county may issue its general obligation bonds under the Local Government Bond Act to finance services, facilities, or functions provided within a service district. If a proposed bond issue is required by law to be submitted to and approved by the voters of the county, and if the proceeds of the proposed bond issue are to be used in connection with a service that is or, if the bond issue is approved, will be provided only for one or more service districts or at a higher level in service districts than countywide, the proposed bond issue must be approved concurrently by a majority of those voting throughout the entire county and by a majority of the total of those voting in all of the affected or to‑be‑affected service districts.