Whitesburg KY
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Says payroll tax is needed

To the Editor:

Suppose for a moment that somebody were to approach you one day and offer you the following deal: “If you agree to contribute $450 of your annual salary (roughly, 1.5 percent of the median Whitesburg annual salary) spread out in equal, bi-weekly payments over the course of the year, I’ll give you a $1,000 to keep in your pocket.”

Now, as any math teacher I ever sat under can attest, I can barely count, but even by my remedial calculation, that leaves you $550 to the good should you choose to take the deal in question.

Well, whether you know it or not, that’s exactly the deal you got when the city council voted unanimously to impose a 1.5 percent city payroll tax this past week.

Here’s why: through the diligent work of Fire Chief Gary Mullins and the current administration, the city’s ISO Public Protection Classification rating, or PPC, improved from six to four (on a 1-10 scale with 1 being the best). ISO is an analytics company that through their PPC program gauges a fire department’s ability to protect the public it serves, just like it sounds. If you live in the City of Whitesburg, whether you know it or not, you’re saving an average of $1,000 a year on your fire insurance policy because of this.

This is just one of many examples of why living in Whitesburg has been a pretty sweet deal for John Q. Taxpayer for as long as I can remember. There are several others.

If you’ve ever been in a hurry and locked your keys in your car, the city police will help you out for five bucks, a fee, I might add, that is never assessed by anyone in the department. You can’t really appreciate this service until you’ve locked your keys in your car in a different city. I was once seduced by the thoughts of the hibachi I was about to eat, careless enough to lock my keys in my car in Mount Sterling before going to dinner with some friends. Upon leaving the restaurant, I naively called Mount Sterling police to come do an unlock, thinking that this was standard procedure and every department did this. Instead, the dispatcher referred me to a locksmith out of Lexington, who charged me $68 to make the roughly 20-minute trip, plus $30 for the unlock once he arrived. Dinner cost me somewhere around $140 that night.

Our city police also do motorist assists; when you run out of gas, or your car breaks down, at no charge to the motorist, the city police will get you gas, give you a boost, or direct you to somebody who can help remedy your car problems. Also, it should be noted that Whitesburg is not one of those annoying speed trap towns that cite you for doing 60 in a 55 just to generate revenue.

The city water department keeps some of the lowest pergallon rates anywhere you’ll go. In addition, the water department is in the process of installing a new raw water intake system that will dramatically improve the quality of the water that reaches your home; to say nothing of the level of service you get from guys like Chris Caudill, Larry Hall, and Steve Taylor, whom I’ve seen attend to water customers’ problems when they were on vacation, not scheduled to work, and so sick they could hardly stand up respectively.

The city has provided all of these services, and paid for them by generating revenue from antiquated means (city stickers, anybody?), and by paying hardworking people antiquated wages that deserve much better than what we’ve been giving them.

I joked on my Facebook during the campaign season that everybody nowadays wants to live in these Libertarian utopias, where nobody pays any taxes, and everybody is independently wealthy, and everybody has the aforementioned services I mentioned without having to put anything in the kitty — I didn’t really recognize it until I got involved in city politics that that is kind of what Whitesburg is; not a utopia to be sure, far, far, from it, but it is a place that has been run, quite efficiently I might add all things considered, with almost no burden to the taxpayer.

This is a unique, beautiful community that we live and work in. And we’ve made significant strides as of late on a shoestring budget.

Downtown has been revitalized thanks to the efforts (and gamble) of civic-minded business people like Mr. Joel Beverly, Mr. Charles Hall, Mr. John Haywood, Mrs. Amelia Kirby, Mr. Sammy Frazier, Dr. John Pelligrini, Ms. Becca Peterson, Mrs. Josephine Richardson, Ms. Laura Schuster, Ms. Carrie Wells, Mr. Charlie Wright, and others. In addition, community volunteers such as Mrs. Leanna Mullins, Dr. David Narramore, and artists like Mr. Doug Adams deserve much praise for the recent facelift given to downtown.

We have a burgeoning young creative class that is doing very important work in the arts and media and adding to this town’s legacy in those areas. An interesting, talented mix of both regional folks and transplants, people like Mr. Steve Adams, Mr. William Banks, Mr. Matthew Carter, Ms. Lacy Hale, Mr. Parker Hobson, Mr. Kevin Howard, Mr. Jonathan Hootman, Mr. Josh May, Mr. Brett Ratliff, Mr. Tarence Ray, Ms. Sylvia Ryerson, Ms. Elizabeth Sanders, and Ms. Ada Smith among many, many others, need to be commended not only for their work in media, the arts, and similar fields, but also the national, and in some cases, global profile they’ve helped build for this city through their unique contributions.

The city wants to be in a position fiscally to support the work of the aforementioned individuals, and to be able to hold up our end of the bargain. To keep the progress going, it’s going to take not only a concerted effort from public, private, and nonprofit bodies, but it’s going to take money as well. Which simply can’t be generated by shilling $7 city stickers. There’s a price to be paid for progress, and over 200 cities in Kentucky already know this and have adopted this form of taxation.

During the course of our small, in-house feasibility study, we consulted with many similar-sized towns and the consensus was this: many people hated the idea at first, but after the city’s public works started picking up and things started improving, people were overwhelmingly in favor. We hope this is the end result for Whitesburg, too.

So I urge you, fellow Whitesburgians, to curb your “don’t tread on me” attitudes, and opt, instead, to take an all-hands-on-deck, communal approach to this.

Be involved, show up on the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. to the city council meetings, keep your city legislators honest and make sure your hard-earned tax dollars are going to worthwhile projects. Let’s all help keep up the good work.

While supporting a new tax, however small, may not be the most politically expedient move for myself and others, I’m convinced it’s the right one, and in the best interest of the people of Whitesburg.

When your grandparents were young, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office and charged with saving the country from certain death, one of the measures he took was confiscating everybody’s gold in the country, and declaring that the citizenry couldn’t own gold lest the country fall. And you know what? People gladly coughed up their shiny things.

We’re not asking you for your gold here, we’re asking that you cut out a McDonald’s trip or two once in a while so we can give people a living wage, create some jobs, and build some stuff. Stuff you can use too.


Tom Sexton serves on the Whitesburg City Council.

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