In April 9 IssueBy Kathy Foley, Columnist
At this writing is has been 6 days since the Russell County Fiscal Court declared war on this county's middle and lower income earners by passing the new 1% occupational tax ordinance with the cap that allows anyone making over $80,000 per year to pay less than the rest of us. This war has just begun. Make no mistake-it is nowhere near over. This ordinance can, should, and if I and other good folks in this county have anything to do with it, will be amended to make sure we are ALL treated equally and fairly.
There was a full house at the Special Called Meeting last Thursday night with nearly all but two lone individuals standing in favor of eliminating the cap that favors the wealthy. I was even optimistic a few times during the meeting that the magistrates were going to do the right thing and eliminate the cap. Judge Robertson recommended on at least three different occasions that they vote on the ordinance without the cap. But, unfortunately, the two members of the audience who opposed that option, Mr. Terry Stephens and Mr. Mike Adams, had no intention of allowing that to happen.
Every time Judge Robertson made that recommendation, Mr. Adams would pop up like a jack-in-the-box and bluster about how it would hurt jobs, while assuring us that he was "not defending" his boss, Mr. Stephens (which of course only convinced most of us that that was exactly what he was doing). If he didn't pop up (or off), then Mr. Stephens would implore, accuse and threaten the Court; he implored them not to pass the ordinance without a cap, he accused the Court of being arrogant and he threatened that he would not move one of his operations from Casey County to Russell County as he was supposedly planning to do.
It became clear that the issue of providing his tax return was far more of a concern to Mr. Stephens than the issue of paying a large sum of money. He told the Court more than a few times to "raise the cap-make it $10,000, $50,000, whatever you want..." He "guaranteed" that other counties in Kentucky did not have occupational taxes that did not exempt or cap businesses. In fact, he made that "guarantee" several times. Oddly, the first Occupational Tax Ordinance I checked-Pulaski County's does not have a cap or exempt anyone or any business… so much for Mr. Stephens' so-called guarantee. In addition, at one point Mr. Stephens flat-out told the Court if they passed it without the cap that no corporation would provide their tax return. "I won't," he said. I shudder to think what would happen to one of us regular Joe's or Joann's, if we just flat refused to cooperate with the law.
Ultimately, the magistrates caved in to their intimidation and bullying tactics. I think the most disappointing moment for me was when Magistrate Popplewell, whom I have always admired for standing up for regular folks, responded with a shrug and a "so-what" attitude when right before the vote he was asked how passing the ordinance with a cap was fair to anyone making less than $80,000.
Basically, as it stands right now, it is even more unfair than it was before the meeting. Originally, the cap was only eligible for those who were self-employed or corporations. County Attorney Shearer informed the Court that previous case law made it illegal to single out certain segments to benefit from a cap-that it had to apply to everyone or no one. So now anyone making over $80,000 per year can benefit from the cap, whether they are an employee, self-employed or a corporation.
It became obvious based on Mr. Stephens' own statements that if the ordinance was passed without the cap that our budget shortfall would be solved almost immediately. In addition, if they were to amend the ordinance eliminating the cap, it would no longer be necessary to raise the tax to a full 1%, making it possible for us all to pay less.
Here's the thing: The Court promised to study other occupational tax ordinances throughout the state to see how they are doing it. (Why this hadn't already been done, is a complete mystery to me-should have been a "no-brainer".)
They also promised to look at this cap again and perhaps amend it. I say that we keep the pressure on-that we continue to show up at the Fiscal Court Meetings and continue to make the magistrate's phones ring. Let's make sure they earn the $600.00 per month salary and the $300.00 per month expense allowance. Let's make sure their cell phones, provided and paid for by us, are ringing continuously on this subject, so they don't think we have forgotten or that we have accepted defeat. They voted not to contribute anything to the health insurance with which we provide them, so let's make sure we get our money's worth by giving them headaches, indigestion and high blood pressure from the stress of answering to us until they do the right thing.
The next Fiscal Court meeting is this Monday evening, April 11th at 6:00 p.m. Judge Robertson has instituted a new rule that anyone who wants to speak must sign up on a list. I understand that is supposed to help keep order, but I see it as a deterrent-an effort to discourage people from speaking up. I urge EVERYONE to come to the meeting and sign the sheet whether you know you want to speak or not. How do you know whether or not you will want to speak? You may hear something that gives you an idea or something you disagree with or you may form an opinion that is important to share. If you sign the sheet and then don't want to speak, you don't have to-no one is going to force you, but if you do, you'll have the opportunity.
One more thing about the Fiscal Court meetings-why, for Pete's sake, are the magistrates seated around a table, some with their backs to us, the public, that they serve? When I asked Judge Robertson about this, he answered, "That's the way it has always been done." Well, I believe you all know what I think about that answer. (Hint: not much.) First of all, I think it shows absolute disrespect for all of us who take our time to be there.
Second, it makes it difficult to hear what is being said. And third, I want to be able to look my elected officials in the face and have them look me in the face when they are voting on something that concerns the welfare of this County and those of us living here-and that means everything they vote on.
My good Readers, my question to you is this: Are you going to stand by and take this unfair treatment or are you going to stand with me and attend the Fiscal Court meetings?
We CAN affect a different outcome. Come to the meeting Monday night and sign up to be heard!