Southern Voices, Southern Voices
By Michael DeWitt, Jr.
A fly buzzes on a gnawed fried chicken bone discarded on the sidewalk between two Main Street car-title-loan companies. Welcome to Swampton County, S.C.
Ever since Swampton County passed the controversial new Pet Tax, clever citizens have been searching for new ways to practice the old art of tax evasion. The county has been holding tax exemption hearings all week.
“State your name for the record,” said County Treasurer (and Mayor) Richard B. Randy.
“Pee Wee Palmer.”
“The nature of your exemption?”
“These dogs aren’t pets, they’s service animals. Seeing eye dogs, to be exact.”
Mayor Randy looked down at the mongrels. The beagle was making unwanted advances all over the court reporter’s leg, and the bluetick hound was licking his rear end too enthusiastically.
“What exactly is the nature of your vision problem? Cataracts? Astigmatism?”
“I believe the doctor called it alcoholism,” Pee Wee said. “When I’m blind drunk they help me find my way home.”
“Why do you need two of them?”
“One of them knows the way to my wife’s house. The other always takes me to my girlfriend’s house.”
“Mr. Shakes, why do you feel this goat should be exempt from the Pet and Livestock Tax?”
“For starters, her name is Nettie. And she isn’t just some goat or livestock, thank you very much. She’s a family member. My wife, to be exact.”
County Councilwoman Annette Turtlebaum gasped. Miss Turtlebaum had never married and had taught Sunday School for 32 years.
“Your wife?” Mayor Randy probed. “This is pretty hard to believe, sir. Do you have any documentation? A marriage license?”
“Naw, she’s my common law wife. Every time I try to load her up and take her down to the courthouse for a proper wedding, she runs off and hides behind the feed shed.”
Miss Turtlebaum was turning a shade of green. Beads of sweat were causing dark rivers of mascara to streak down her face.
“Sir, you need to provide some type of evidence to support your case, otherwise you will have to pay the $50 Livestock Tax.”
Corky produced a thick manila envelope. Mayor Randy pulled a photograph from it, which made Miss Turtlebaum gasp even louder. She suddenly got red-faced and covered her mouth with one trembling hand.
“There’s me and Nettie on our first date,” Corky continued. “Just a playful romp in the pasture, and then a picnic. Don’t you just love her cute little tank top? There’s another one of her in a yellow sundress.”
With his mouth agape, Randy pulled out another photo.
“What the…!” he exclaimed, dropping the picture as if it were on fire. “Did you take sexy boudoir photos with a goat?”
“Doesn’t that lingerie just bring out the green in her eyes?” Corky asked proudly. “Did you notice the matching collar and ear tag?”
Later that evening, the record indicates that council voted to approve Mr. Shakes’ exemption – but it was not unanimous. Miss Turtlebaum lost consciousness during the proceedings and had to be rushed to Swampton County Medical University Urgent Care Center.
Sammy Sluice had been practicing his best Hollywood-actor-style Southern lawyer accent all week. He even bought a seersucker suit and tie.
“Why do you feel your horse is exempt from the Pet and Livestock Tax?” Randy enquired. “Clearly a horse is both a pet, and livestock.”
“Your Honor,” Sammy drawled. “I present to the court Exhibit A.”
“This looks like a police report,” Randy said after examination. “It says here you were passed out drunk across the saddle on U.S. Highway 69. Tell me, how exactly does a person get a Driving Under the Influence charge while riding a horse?”
“Well, Your Honor, I’m here to testify that I instructed my horse to ‘Take us home, Partner,’but I didn’t specify the route, and the old fool took us right down the busy four-lane highway, through the middle of town, and right into that police sobriety check.”
“So what exactly does this have to do with the Pet Tax?”
“Well, if it pleases The Court, it is my legal argument that the horse in question is neither pet, nor livestock, but a mode of transportation. If the Swampton County Sheriff’s Office can charge me with DUI on this animal, then I argue it must be a vehicle and not a pet. Therefore I am exempt,” he added with a cocky grin. “I rest my case, Your Honor.”
For once, Mayor Randy was stumped. He had been outsmarted by a drunkard and a common criminal. “Well, sir, I suppose we can’t argue with that. I guess you are free to go.”
Victorious, Sammy had almost strutted out of the room when the Mayor called him back.
“By the way, sir, we will be sending you a property tax notice for that horse,” the Mayor said, beaming. “Unfortunately, vehicle tax is much more expensive that Pet Tax. Also, you will now be required to put a license tag on the rear end of that ‘vehicle,’ and you are going to need full coverage insurance as well. I’ll tell the Sheriff to keep an eye out for you.”
Here in Swampton County, you can fight city hall, but the government will get you one way or another. Come back and see us.
(Michael M. DeWitt, Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian, an award-winning journalist, columnist and outdoor writer who has been published in South Carolina Wildlife, Sporting Classics, and the author of two books.)