Thursday, October 25, 2012


In 2009 the people of Lyon County passed a one cent sales tax. The strategic aim of the increase was property tax relief, with a five year sunset.

Today, many of us are facing property tax increases instead of relief. Emporia and Lyon County are caught in a downward spiral of low wages, population decreases, and high poverty rates. Our local labor situation is in a state of dangerous limbo, with the prospects of 450 of our fellow citizens hanging by a thread.

Ten years ago the unemployment rate in Lyon County was 5%. In July of this year the county’s unemployment rate stood at 6.3%. In 2002 Emporia’s population was 26,666. Today it’s 24,971, and the labor force reductions at Tyson can’t account for all the people who are leaving. For the past ten years inflation has been rising. Goods or services that cost a hundred dollars back then now cost a hundred and twenty-seven. Have our wages kept up with inflation? In 2002, our average annual household income was $30,809. Today, it’s $32, 179. Inflation’s up by 27%. Incomes have increased by 4.4%. It’s a recipe for disaster.   In 2002, the property tax mill levy for an Emporia resident was 147.62. With the recent increase approved by the county commissioners, it will soon be a bit north of 166 mills, a double digit increase.  Our poverty rate in 2002 was 17.9%. That was bad, but nothing compared to the 26.9% rate we’re at today. Think of it. About three in ten of our fellow citizens are living at or below the poverty line.

In the face of this grim news, our leaders are asking us to approve a ten year sales tax. They talk about a never-ending stream of tax dollars for infrastructure projects and quality of life. All around the county, the politicians and bureaucrats are marching in lock step, with their hats in their hands, telling us we must do with less so they can have more.  Commissioners talk about pull factor (ours is actually 7% below the average for first class Kansas cities) as if were a silver bullet. They can’t seem to see, or refuse to see, how hard it is for those living on low or fixed incomes to pull their respective loads in this environment. They threaten us with even higher property taxes if we vote the sales tax down. When those of us who are against the tax increase make recommendations, we’re told our proposals won’t make much of a dent or that they’re not reasonable. We’re honestly mystified. If a judge can rule that an 8% wage cut for 450 Lyon Countians is reasonable, we believe that pay cuts for high dollar city and county  managers are every bit as reasonable. When we bring up the RDA, the golf course, Humvees, overtime, the possibility of eliminating layers of management with self-managed workgroups, they dig their heels in and say, “No!” We’re really mystified. We believe a few dents are in order. They tell us we’re cutting off our noses to spite our faces. We say they’re cutting the legs of their neediest constituents off at the knees.

 Our leaders tell us they’re listening, but they’re not. They labor under the false assumption that we can tax our way out of the hole we’ve been digging for years.

 Well, we can’t! The record is clear on that.

Those of us who oppose the sales tax have good, factual reasons for our opposition. First, it’s regressive. It hurts those who can afford it least. There are no exemptions in this measure for food, prescription drugs, or clothing that those living on low or fixed incomes must pay a greater share of their income on. Second, in tough times government also needs to learn how to make do with a lot less. If 450 of us must face the prospect of 8% less, why shouldn’t our government? Third, lower tax rates stimulate economic growth. The City of Dalton, GA, for example, came upon hard times a few years back. They lowered their sales tax rate from 7% to 5%. A year later sales tax revenues increased by 9.3%! Fourth, we’re told that government is tightening its belt. Really? The City of Emporia’s general ledger expenses have increased by about 10% since 2009. They’re projected to increase by another 11% above the 2012 levels in 2013. The county’s total expenses increased by 7% between 2011 and 2012. Do they really want us to believe that’s belt tightening?
Finally, we intend to keep the attention of our political leaders riveted on the people after the votes are counted. We will not go away. We will do everything in our power to see that our government responds to the brutal realities so many of us must face every day!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Our Irish adventure is now history. It was a whirlwind week.
We arrived in Dublin early on Saturday morning, the 29th. We got to Corraquill at about 12:30 and picked up our boat, The Dutch Courage.  Our great adventure was about to begin.
When Nancy and I looked at the brochures piloting a 50 foot barge didn’t seem too difficult. Once we were on the water, however, it was a different story. We spent most of our time lurching starboard, then over-correcting to our port side. The first leg of our journey takes about 3 hours for an experienced canal pilot. We made it to Ballyconnell in five and a half.
Our first night was pretty uneventful – dinner at a pub called the Angler’s Rest and a night of much needed rest. On Sunday morning we were on our way again. This leg took us from Ballyconnell to Ballinamore, another three hour journey. After a couple of hours we began to feel like seasoned pros. We made our way through the locks with relative ease. One of us would steer the barge, one would man the ropes, and another would take care of the electronics of the locks, letting water in or out as the situation dictated, etc.  But, then we had an encounter with a bridge that shattered our illusions of professional competence. Thankfully, we only sheared off a “wee bit” of the port side of the cabin.
We tied up at Ballinamore at about 6 P.M.  By 6:30 we were enjoying a pint of Guinness and some good Irish beef at the Commercial Hotel. Our waitress was a woman who appeared to be in her mid-sixties, about five feet tall and all of about 90 pounds. What she lacked in youth and size, she more than made up for in zest and courage. At some point during the evening a surly soccer fan came into the pub side of the establishment and sucker punched one of the regular patrons. That’s when the diminutive waitress took over. “Not in my baaahhhr!” she shouted. “It’s out with ya’ and don’t ya’ come back.” A few minutes later he tried to test her resolve by stumbling back into the bar. It was a mistake. I couldn’t see what happened, but I heard it. There was the sound of a solid left hook to the jaw, followed by a thump as something or someone hit the floor. When she came back to our side of the hotel I asked her what had happened. She smiled. “Oh, I gave ‘im a bit of a pop and that was that.”
Before we left, Steve Corbin told me he’s been looking for a bouncer. I believe I found her.
The next night we were back in Ballyconnell, with the Dutch Courage no worse for the wear. We took a day trip by car to Athlone to visit Dillon’s Castle, which my kids have wanted to see for some time. Then it was back to Ballyconnell for what turned out to be a very entertaining jam session. Four or five of the local patrons, knowing we were leaving the next day for Dublin, gathered up a guitar, a boudran (a native Irish drum), and a couple of teaspoons, an off-key American (me), and the fun began. Nancy got several videos of the merrymaking. I’m hoping, for dignity’s sake, they never make it to the big screen.
We spent two memorable days in Dublin. We went to the library of Trinity College and saw the historic Book of Kells and the massive collection of old vellum manuscripts. Incredible! Nancy and I did a pub crawl which included the obligatory Guinness and readings from the works of great Irish writers like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and Brendan Behan. The performers also gave us interesting little tidbits about the authors. Behan, for example, was a roaring alcoholic from the age of eight. He was once asked by a reporter if he had a drinking problem. His response was brilliant. “I’m a drinker with a writing problem!” When asked what “Waiting for Godot” was about, in keeping with his existentialist philosophy, Samuel Beckett said it was about “absolutely nothing.”
On Friday we toured Kilmainham Gaol, the infamous British prison of the mid nineteenth and early 20th centuries. During the great Potato Famine young Irish children were incarcerated there for stealing bread. The leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held there until they were executed in the exercise yard.  One of them, poet Joseph Plunkett, was allowed to marry his sweetheart, Grace Gifford, a few hours before he faced the firing squad.
That’s Ireland. It’s a mix of tragic history, vibrant culture, toe-tapping music, lively conversation, and, of course, a good pint of the bitters.
Hopefully I’ve done it a bit of justice in 800 words.