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Residents should pay equally for services

All men — and women — may have been created equal, but all taxpayers certainly were not in the city of Ironton.

But, finally, city officials have the chance to promote fairness and equality by requiring all its working citizens to pay 1 percent of their income toward maintaining vital services.

This has been a long time coming and needs to be fixed now.

For years the city had a 100 percent reciprocity agreement that meant that those residents who worked in other municipalities that had a tax equal or higher to 1 percent did not have to pay Ironton’s tax at all.

That changed five years ago so that Ironton residents who work in other municipalities with an income tax are now required to pay half the city’s 1-percent income tax.

I live and work in Ironton so I pay the 1 percent. My wife works in Ashland, Ky., so this change I am supporting will actually cost my family money but it is the right thing to do.

My neighbor lives in Ironton but works in Ashland, so he is paying half as much income tax as I am.

If both our houses catch on fire, do I get first preference? Nope.

We both drive on the same streets. Do I get the opportunity to have him pull over so that I can get through since I pay more toward maintaining the streets and traffic signals? Not a chance.

Will the police keep a closer watch on my house than they will his since I am contributing more money toward their salaries? Of course not.

The bottom line is that every Ironton resident — working or not — should contribute toward the services we need to have a quality of life. This reciprocity change addresses some of those issues for those who don’t pay their fair share but should be coupled with other changes that address those who don’t work at all.

Now is time for the playing field to be leveled and maybe even some other changes initiated.

Here are a few of the reasons why this needs to be changed and some common misconceptions.

Myth No. 1: This is double taxation. Sorry, that doesn’t fly. The city of Ironton is only applying one tax. The other is by the municipality where someone works in order to pay for the services received while there, such as police and fire protection and having streets to drive on.

Myth No. 2: People will leave town because of this. Sorry I’m not buying that one either. The math simply doesn’t add up.

If someone makes $100,000 a year and works in the city of Ashland, they are currently paying Ironton only $500 a year in taxes. If reciprocity is eliminated, they would pay an additional $500.

You are trying to tell me that someone is going to move for that? Even when taxes in many other communities are higher? I am not buying it.

Myth No. 3: This is illegal. That simply isn’t true. And despite what some claim, many other cities handle this the same way. I think the municipal fees, which are basically a back-door tax that circumvents the voters, is on far more shaky ground legally.

And the city’s $8 municipal fee is the second part of the equation.

If reciprocity is changed does the city still need the fee? I think the answer is yes but it should be modified in several ways.

First, because it is on water bills, there is often trouble collecting this. That is why water bills should be required to be kept in name of the property owners rather than renters. They would responsible for ensuring they have sufficient security deposits to cover this when someone decides to up and leave.

Second, the fee should be applied per unit not just per household. If an apartment that has one water meter has six units, the property owner should be assessed for six municipal fees. The same goes for Sherman Thompson Towers and every other apartment complex.

Third, maybe the fee should be increased to $15 a month — but only for those who don’t pay income tax. Why not issue a tax credit of $7 a month if someone pays taxes, so they would be only paying the current $8 and those who don’t pay income tax would be picking up a more equitable share.

I’m sure these ideas won’t make me popular but the bottom line is that everyone needs to pull his or her weight to move the city forward.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.