HAZARD — The final vote for a proposed 1 percent payroll tax placed on workers in Perry County was held by the Fiscal Court on Dec. 9. In order for an ordinance to become law, it must pass with approval through the Fiscal Court twice. The vote in the Dec. 9 meeting turned out the same as the previous meeting, with Judge Exec. Scott Alexander, Magistrate Ronald Combs and Magistrate Kenny Cole voting yes, while Magistrate Keith Miller voted no. With this vote, the tax will now become law.
Supporters of the tax claim it will help relieve Perry County’s current budget crisis and enable local government to provide more services to the public. The Fiscal Court estimates the tax will bring more than $4 million into the Perry County Fiscal Court’s budget each year.
Opponents of the tax point out the fact that this a tax placed specifically on working people, during a time of decline in the local job market, and they call for the Fiscal Court to have strict accountability and transparency with the public on how the extra funds brought in by the tax are spent.
Several citizens attended the Dec. 9 meeting to address the court. Among their concerns was the fact that working families in the mountains are struggling, with wages rapidly declining over the past few years. They said the yearly total paid into the tax might add up to be a troublesome amount for families already living pay check to pay check. They also called on the Fiscal Court to develop and promote job creating initiatives.
Judge Alexander said the payroll tax was one of very few options the Fiscal Court could legally pursue to relieve budget strains. He also pledged that job recruitment, along with other public services, would be a fundamental goal for extra money generated by the payroll tax.
Eddie Campbell spoke to the court members, urging them to show transparency with how the new tax money is spent. Campbell, who was also Alexander’s opponent in the 2014 general election, has criticized the Fiscal Court’s spending over the past two years, claiming the amounts awarded to contractors are excessive. At the Dec. 9 meeting, Campbell stated that Judge Alexander inherited a budget with more money in it than what is required by law to operate the county government, when he took over office. Campbell said the Fiscal Court’s spending practices have played a role in the need for taxation.
Alexander said the spending on contractors is not excessive and that the county government has used contractors for various services in previous years. Alexander has also stated in the past that expenses from the previous administration have been contributors to the county’s budget troubles.
However, all of the debate over whether or not the payroll tax should pass is now over because on Dec. 9 the tax became law. Soon, 1 percent will be cut from paychecks in Perry County and the tax revenue will go into the Fiscal Court’s budget. All other debates on whether or not the tax will be beneficial will depend on time for a resolution.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.