12 December 2018

[MB McCart] - #COV, First Report: In Which I Meet with the Mayor, Finance Director, Senior Planner, et al

Last week I wrote a piece about several issues that have been on the minds of many Covingtonians including occupational taxes, code enforcement & the dreaded Stormwater Utility bill/tax on rain.

Still the REAL C-town logo, IMO

So bright & early yesterday morning, I attended a scheduled meeting with the Mayor, the city PR officer & three department heads (Finance, P&Z, Engineering). First off, I want to thank these individuals for meeting with me, and I very much appreciate their time. I received a lot of information I'd previously asked for in an email I sent last week & I also submitted multiple other information requests at the meeting, some of which I've already received. Say what you will about the Covington government - and many of you have - but their level of professionalism & efficiency is a nice change of pace from dealing with the Newton Co. government the last few years. But I digress...

This is going to be a process, friends, and not necessarily a quick one. I really want to research all of this & truly have my ducks in a row before I start getting into the nitty gritty. Also, I've been meeting with various Citizens throughout the past few weeks & will be meeting with several more in the near future. I'm very much looking for the "REAL Story." From here on out, these following issues will be delineated into separate reports & most will likely have multiple reports. So bear with me & we'll all see what we see.

Occupational Tax/Business Licenses 

Specifically, the fact that all individual hairdressers & barbers are having to pay this tax on top of the salon or barbershop they work at already having paid it. Sort of seems like double taxation.

This much we know - while the city first started this tax in 1995, it really didn't start getting enforced until the early 2000's. And let's be real about it. This is the city taxing anyone engaging in an occupation, not just business endeavors & going concerns open for business with the public. The stay-at-home Mom working a side job out of her house? Let's say someone doing web design & development on the side? An older fella that does yard work for a few different folks? The city seems to think you owe them a minimum of $100 per annum to be able to make money. Their share of property taxes, sales tax revenue & several other revenue streams apparently aren't enough. But seriously, this speaks to some pretty big, philosophical issues. Freedom; the pursuit of Life, Liberty & prosperity & all of that. Another story for another time.

Charging the individual hairdressers, each & every one, however, didn't start happening until about 3 or 4 years ago, and this seems to be verified. I wonder what brought on that change? Being that these folks are licensed by the state, it was thought that they wouldn't have to pay any regulatory fees because that is expressly prohibited per Title 48 of OCGA; however, an occupational tax is NOT the same as a "regulatory fee." There are a couple of other things I'm looking at & will report on that sometime in the near future. I do know most other cities I've looked at do not charge the individual hairdressers & barbers, only the business establishment itself. And one thing I did confirm yesterday is this: 

The City of Covington Council can vote to change this.

So this is perhaps an issue that will have to be dealt with in the political arena.  Hairdressers & Barbers Unite! I'm still working on one other angle pertaining to some case law I found that could have an effect. I'll keep y'all posted.

Code Enforcement 

First off, as I'd previously mentioned, we're not talking about code enforcement officers, we are now - as of July 2017 - speaking of Marshals, armed & WITH arrest powers. I've already received some of the information I've requested & was somewhat surprised to learn that there has only been one official complaint lodged against either of the Marshals that Covington has.

Another concern, going back for years, is the concept of select enforcement of the city's ordinances, that perhaps there's a different set of rules for some than others. I'm continuing to research this & am in contact with multiple Citizens. Be on the lookout for futures pieces on this subject.

Stormwater Utility Taxes Fees 

This is the one that has most of the C-town folks the most riled up & for good reason! As I wrote in the original piece, less than 8% of the cities in Georgia have enacted this funding mechanism. Back in the day, the city said they had to. Folks, are we not taxed enough already? I think so. And just think about a hairdressers in Covington that have to pay for this thing?

This is definitely one that is going to take some time to figure out. The formula used to compute the fee is rather complicated & involves a lot of factors. I'm working on getting studied up on that so I'll be able to know what I'm doing & what I'm looking for when it comes to seeing if these fees are being properly calculated.

In terms of the financials of these fees, which go into a dedicated enterprise fund, I'm still waiting to get additional information. And the final thing I spoke of last week, the liens the city has filed (and making sure that's been done in a fair & proper manner) will probably take the longest. But I am working on it.

Another item of information I've requested from the city has to do with the overall financials of the city. How much are they bringing in, but more specifically, how much are they bringing in from each & every revenue stream, and specific breakdowns of expenses, salaries, benefits, etc. That piece will probably hit in the next day or two.

Okay for now. Thanks for reading.

- MB McCart

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