In April 16 IssueBy Kathy Foley, Columnist
As I begin writing this column, it has been 13 days since the Russell County Fiscal Court declared war on middle- and low-income wage earners by passing the new 1% Occupational Tax on everyone making less than $80,000 per year. Those making more than $80,000 per year are allowed to pay less than 1%-- in fact, the more you make, the less you pay.
I would be lying if I said that I wasn't disappointed at the lack of turnout of regular wage-earners at last Monday night's Fiscal Court meeting. However, the place was packed with local business owners who are terrified that the Fiscal Court might remove the abhorrent cap on their new tax, thereby making it fairer for their employees, but costing them a bit more money. They do have a legitimate concern and some valid points concerning the corporate net profits tax. This, to me, should be a totally separate issue and should most certainly be dealt with in a very carefully considered way in order to avoid running off potential industry and jobs in this county. The last thing this county needs is fewer jobs.
That does not change my position on the how the current ordinance taxes personal income in a grossly unfair way. It was said at the meeting by one of the numerous business owners that "no tax is fair".
Well, that may or may not be true, but this tax is certainly fairer to some than to others; namely, the wealthy. It saddens me that the room Monday night was virtually empty, except for a handful, of the people in this county that it penalizes the most. However, I do understand it. Most of the hardworking wage earners who are being nailed the hardest by this unfair tax work for the people who did show up the other night and would, no doubt, be fearful of repercussions should they show up and speak up against something their employers are so staunchly in favor of. Sad, but true.
But, be of good cheer all you hard working low- and middle-income wage earners of Russell County! I have good news! While waiting for the meeting to start, I found myself engaged in a conversation … well, no… actually that would suggest that 2 or more were actually contributing to a discussion; rather, I was listening to a lecture by the owner of Superior Battery, Randy Hart, who has the solution to all your financial woes, thus enabling you to pay that 1% tax with little or no pain. Apparently, in addition to running a successful battery company, he also dispenses financial counseling to those who come to him quite often, he says, with trouble making ends meet. (It is not clear whether his door is open to one and all or if this service is free-perhaps this is his volunteer work and how he gives back to his community.) At any rate, he disclosed to me that the real problem is that you all are just wasting too much money on things you don't really need.
So, basically, if you just tighten your belts a bit more and stop wasting so much money, then you wouldn't worry so much about having to pay an additional ¾% on this dreaded occupational tax.
One more thing I'm having trouble figuring out is how the people who compile all those statistics for the state are getting things so wrong here in Russell County. They publish that the median income for Russell County is $22,042. That works out to approximately $11 per hour. The weird thing is that so far, every time I have mentioned to any of these employers something about their employees who make 8-12 bucks an hour, they say, "Oh no, we pay substantially more than that…" I guess those folks who compile those statistics for the state just have it wrong. The median income for Russell County must be much higher than that. I bet all those wage earners out there have fabulous healthcare benefits and paid sick days and all the paid holidays, vacations galore and wonderful profit-sharing and retirement plans as well. In fact, I should really stop worrying about the unfair burden this Occupational Tax places on them because one of the business owners the other night said that he "spoke for" his employees as well when he was defending the cap. That must be why none of them showed up-they knew their employers would speak for them.
Really, people, we have nothing to worry about. Our benevolent employers and the wise sages on our Fiscal Court will look after us, why, we shouldn't even bother to stay informed or show up for those pesky Fiscal Court meetings. Let's just trust that they have our best interests at heart.
Now, don't you feel better? I know I don't.