Commonwealth Journal

July 26, 2013

Barnett: Occupational tax model is example for rest of state

Magistrate thinks all of Kentucky should use Pulaski County’s system

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

At least one member of the Pulaski County Fiscal Court thinks the county’s occupational tax model is working just fine — enough to share with the rest of the state.
Tommy Barnett, 3rd District magistrate, clarified comments he made as a result of a recent joint conference between Kentucky county judge-executives and magistrates.
CNHI Frankfort correspondent Ronnie Ellis wrote late last week about the conference held in Louisville, involving magistrates and commissioners alike, and included Barnett’s thoughts, saying:
“Tommy Barnett, a Republican Magistrate from Pulaski County, wants lawmakers to address a specific type of local tax — the occupational tax. He said lawmakers need to renew a provision that allows cities and counties to share occupational taxes which Barnett said are often collected on county residents who work in the cities.”
Of course, the occupational tax has been a sore spot in recent months in Pulaski County, regarding conflict with city government over EMS funding. The matter was resolved last month, but not before Somerset City Hall had threatened to implement its own occupational tax, applied to businesses within the city limits, which would have placed a severe drain on revenues earned by the county.
According to Barnett, that’s not what he was talking about, however.
“I feel that the current system is distributed very fairly,” he said, regarding Pulaski’s occupational tax.
“Ours is set up by percentage,” he continued. “If the tax base goes up, their portion goes up. Other (counties) don’t do it by percentage.”
 That is to say, when economic times are tough and fewer people are hired, revenues come down. Employers within the county are supposed to withhold 1 percent of employees’ pay for the occupational tax. Along with that, employers also pay around 1 percent of their net profit into the occupational tax. With more employees, and more profit, the government coffers get fuller.
“When revenues go up, the city gets a certain percentage, the jail gets more, the ambulance service gets more,” said Barnett. “There’s a statute (on the tax) that expires in July, that’s possibly why the legislation wants to take another look at the statutes.”
Barnett said there had been “some talk” at the conference in Louisville about a potential bill down the road that could redistribute occupational tax revenues throughout Kentucky.
“It’s the state as a whole I’m interested in,” he said. “I’m in interested in maybe supporting the new bill. I’d like to see the language of it before supporting it. ... It’s too early to see what’s going to be filed.”
The conference was held last week, and involved ideas and input from local legislators all around the Commonwealth. Ellis reported specifically on those ideas relating to tax reform, which is expected to be a potential focus in next year’s general assembly session.