In May 14 IssueBy Kathy Foley, Columnist
Thirty-nine days after Larry Holt (585-2002), Ronald Johnson (566-1887), Brook Cochran (566-4521), Jimmy McQueary (566-1787) and Greg Popplewell (866-1157), magistrates of the Russell County Fiscal Court, decided to solve the county's budget deficit on the backs of the working poor and middle class citizens of this county while giving a break to the wealthy and powerful, they met again for the regular monthly Fiscal Court meeting. After nearly 2 grueling and monotonous hours wherein they decided to take another road into the county, admitted to buying a "pig in a poke" when purchasing the most recent road grader or dump truck (I don't remember which), approved the purchasing of two used (new to us) dump trucks, salt boxes and possibly a road grader; while at the same time virtually ignoring a representative from the local Red Cross and denying extra funds to the Green River Animal Shelter, I was finally granted the floor.
At that point, I asked for the results of the research they had promised would be done at the last Fiscal Court Meeting on the impact of a cap vs no cap on the Occupational Tax imposed by other counties.
I wish you could have seen the faces staring back at me from the table of magistrates-well, at least they were staring back at me, unlike the first meeting I attended where half of them had their backs to the public. After I asked for those research results, I would have sworn I was looking at five deer caught in headlights. The silence was deafening. You could practically hear the gears turning behind the whites of those eyes. Finally, Magistrate Johnson spoke up, saying that he had done research but only spewing out comments that had been reported in the previous meeting-that some counties had a cap, others didn't; some counties had a net profits tax, others had a license fee for business-all information that had been discussed at the previous meeting, making it clear that he had done no further research, as was promised.
I then asked each magistrate, starting with Larry Holt, the magistrate who represents the district in which I reside, whether or not he was satisfied with what he and the Court had done regarding the Occupational Tax and the cap that allows the wealthiest a break while putting the heaviest burden on the working poor and middle class. Other than being outwardly hostile and disrespectful to me for the second straight meeting, Mr. Holt flatly refused to answer my question, ultimately bowing his head like a petulant child refusing to even acknowledge my presence. I do not take his rudeness and and defensiveness personally, however, I must question whether someone who cannot treat his own constituent with respect, whether or not he agrees with him/her, should be in a position of public trust, supposedly representing their interests.
Next, I went down the line asking each of the magistrates of this county whether or not they were satisfied with the way they have implemented this Occupational Tax, placing the heaviest burden on the working poor and middle class, or if they intended to revisit this issue before it expires in two years under the sunset clause. This, a reasonable question considering that a little over a month ago at the end of March at the Special Called Meeting to pass this tax increase, they must have asked County Attorney Shearer at least 6 times whether they could come back and amend this Ordinance later because they were under the gun and had to pass something that very night and therefore didn't have time to research the pros & cons of the cap. And, at least 6 different times Mr. Shearer told them they could come back and amend it at any time. Oddly, when I asked them this question, at least two of them seemed to be confused and wanted me to clarify my question as if they didn't know what I was talking about. No doubt, because as far as they were concerned, this was a done deal and they hadn't given it another thought since the last meeting (and hoped that no one else had either). They obviously never had any intention of revisiting this issue; they only pretended to. And this was confirmed when each and every magistrate in turn answered that they had no plans to bring this issue up again, with the exception of Greg Popplewell. When it came his turn, he answered that he had done some further research (although he didn't expound upon the results of such research) and that after 8 months or so, when he sees what kind of monies this Occupational tax brings in, he does plan to bring this matter up again.
While I do appreciate that four of the five magistrates gave me the courtesy of a little respect and an answer to my question, I have to admit I was not surprised by their answers, but I was disappointed. At the time, I was even a little appreciative that Greg Popplewell indicated that he had not totally given up on the idea of possibly amending it sooner than the expiration date. But since then, I have had time to think about his answer. What did he mean?
Does he mean that if the majority of us working-stiffs making about $22,000 per year (because that IS the median income in Russell County) paying our full 1 percent brings in enough to put us on track to solve the deficit, then great! It's working! Are they going to keep the status quo-keep those working stiffs with no power and no voice paying their full 1 percent while they give a break to Terry Stephens, Mike Adams, Randy Hart and anyone else who makes over $80,000 per year? Or, if it isn't bringing in enough to solve the deficit, what then? Perhaps they will consider amending it to make those poor working stiffs shoulder even more of the burden. Because certainly they don't want to make waves with the rich and powerful.
Basically, I am not heartened at all by Greg Popplewell's answer. (Although I do thank him and the other four for at least granting me the courtesy of a response.)
One magistrate even said to me as we were leaving the building that they were all just "wore out" on this issue. I reminded him that those out there trying to support a family on $20,000 per year were always "wore out" and it was his job to do right by them. Unfortunately, I'm afraid this fell on deaf ears. It seems that the only things our magistrates are really concerned with is doing the bidding of the rich and powerful of this county.
Apparently, though, I am the only one in the county who is concerned about any of these issues because I was one of only about 3 people who attended this meeting that wasn't there to find out if they won a bid to provide oil or pavement or some such thing. And as long as I am the only one who cares, then why shouldn't the magistrates do the bidding of the rich and powerful? I mean, they know who butters their bread.
The interests of the rich and powerful are at stake, they (the rich & powerful) show up and they are heard loud and clear.