As citizens, we expect a certain level of services from our governmental entities.
We expect the federal government to maintain a military and print money. We expect the state government to fund the roads on which we travel, and we expect local governments to police our streets.
That’s why one can’t hate every tax. The folks who moan about every tax are often the first to complain when the pothole isn’t filled or when the police officer arrives on the scene of their broken mailbox an hour after they make the call.
Taxes are a necessity if we are to maintain a quality of life we have come to expect in our communities.
Every government funds operations differently. North Carolina has high taxes on gasoline, but the state has a lower income tax rate than most. Municipalities use property taxes as their largest revenue source. In other states, municipalities collect income taxes.
The point is that the money has to come from somewhere. In North Carolina, it seems like everything is taxed. The sales tax base has been expanded in recent years as income taxes are cut.
There’s a lot of opinions regarding that move. Those who say sales tax is regressive have a point. The seven or eight cents on the dollar hits an individual making $500 a week harder than the person who makes $500 a day.
Those who support funding the government by way of sales tax also have a point. It forces all — not just property owners — to pay some of their share for the services provided.
I see both sides of the shift to funding operations by way of the sales tax. However, recently I saw a tax which hits closer to home. It seems some want to tax my burger and my beer.
As Mount Airy officials attempt to increase revenues to fund increased expenses, they are looking to a food and beverage tax, but some assertions simply don’t add up.
First, I’ve heard some folks say that such a tax will pull money from the pockets of tourists rather than locals, but we aren’t talking about a tax which will raid the pockets of only tourists.
One can walk into any restaurant in Mount Airy at lunch, dinner or any other time and view many locals chowing down on locally prepared foods and tossing back a locally served Miller Lite or a sweet tea.
Such a tax does hit locals, and if those locals don’t turn out for breakfast, lunch and dinner at some of those establishments, it will hurt those businesses.
Second, I take issue whenever I hear government officials complaining about the need to increase revenues.
Revenue increases are built into our system of taxation. That is, if the government is doing a good job, it will benefit from increased revenues.
It’s simple, if that city or county is attracting new businesses or creating an environment in which existing businesses can thrive and expand it is rewarded with a larger tax base.
Likewise, when a local government is doing a good job, property values ought to increase, again increasing revenues collected through property taxes.
Such a government would also see sales tax figures increase when folks are earning higher wages and spending more money.
Economic development isn’t an easy task, but that’s the sustainable way to increase revenues — not constantly coming up with an avenue to reach further into the pockets of those already struggling to pay the bills.
Last, listening to the woes of government officials who claim to be so terribly underpaid gets old.
According to the Surry County Economic Development Partnership’s statistics, about 20 percent of Surry County lives below the poverty line.
For a family of four, the poverty line is $24,600 per year. I would bet few city employees live below that.
The annual average salary among working individuals in Surry County is about $34,000, according to the EDP.
With the exception of some hefty salaries for administration and department heads, that number seems pretty close to on par with many of the public sector salaries I’ve seen published in our paper.
We’ve embraced this tourist economy — and the jobs in the retail, food and accommodations industries that accompany such an economy.
The EDP numbers reflect an average annual salary of about $14,000 for somebody working in the food service or accommodations industry and a salary of about $25,000 for a person working in the retail trade.
The city falls short in its argument of a “need” for more revenue, as many workers in the area would be elated to have a city salary and benefits package, and pick-pocketing locals a penny at a time isn’t a sustainable way to grow revenues.
Instead, the city should be attracting businesses which want to invest in the community and which offer wages on which a family can live a decent life and, perhaps, even afford that burger these folks want to tax.
I’m not certain Mount Airy residents should have to eat this tax.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.