McDONOUGH – The Henry County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of adjusting an occupational tax fee for the first time since the mid-1990s.
David Curry, Henry County’s tax commissioner, said administrative fee on occupational taxes had not been adjusted since the fee was set at $35 back in 1995.
The BOC voted to increase the occupational tax to $60 with an unanimous vote at Wednesday morning’s meeting.
Curry said the workload for his office has increased over the years.
“We have more businesses now than we had in 1995,” Curry said. “Three times as many. The workload’s increased. We had one employee back then, and now we’ve got three employees.”
“I’m all for low fees and low taxes,” Curry added. “It cost $275 for me to open a business in Stockbridge. (The county fee) is not a huge increase to the business owner, from $35 to $60. We’re not leading the pack, we’re following suit.”
While the board unanimously approved the increase, it scrapped another proposal that would have increased a fee for door-to-door solicitations.
The fee, which is charged in 90-day intervals for those participating in door-to-door soliciting, would be increased from $100 to $250 per person, and background checks would be required for those looking to go door-to-door.
The fee proved to be controversial, as a member of the public argued in the public comment portion of the meeting that a fee increase would put an undue burden on certain organizations.
Vivian Thomas, a resident of Henry County, said that she was offended at the very idea that the county would strengthen restrictions on those going door-to-door.
“I’m offended that item even came before the board,” Thomas said. “When we think about going door-to-door to share literature with different people, I go way back to when people told us certain people like me were not allowed to read. I had to go to schools and certain pages were torn out of books so we didn’t have all the information.”
Thomas said she was concerned that information was being censored, and her First Amendment rights were being infringed.
“Let’s think about this for just a moment,” Thomas said. “Passage of such a resolution will shut down grassroots operation campaigns. Nonprofit services use this to tell about their services. Churches share their literature to communities about services they have to offer. Small businesses often look for teenagers to work for them.”
Thomas suggested the Girl Scouts and their cookie sales would also be significantly impacted by the proposed fee change, expressing concern the county would charge Girl Scouts $100 each to sell their cookies.
“This is an old-fashioned tradition that helps communities stay close to be able to talk to each other.”
In response to those arguments, Henry County attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said the fees would apply only to those who go door-to-door to sell a product or service.
Specifically, Jaugstetter said the fees would apply for those who sold cable TV services or other for-profit businesses
The act of going door-to-door to sell products was referred to in the ordinance as “canvassing,” a word that is commonly associated with political activities. To that point, District 2 Commissioner Dee Clemmons asked Jaugstetter about political activities potentially being restricted due to the word “canvassing.”
In response, Jaugstetter said the county is constitutionally prohibited from issuing such a fee on political activities.
The McDonough City Council recently handled a similar matter, and discussion centered around the constitutionality of restricting those going door-to-door to advertise a political campaign or candidate, or those advertising their church or promoting religious activities.