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The weight of the state

After seven years in business, I truly thought we had the tax thing down and all the regulations that go along with owning a business.

We all know about the federal and state taxes we pay every year, and then there are all the other taxes that come along with owning a retail business, such as the trader’s license ($40 a year to operate a store), personal property tax just to hold on to your business name in Maryland ($300) and also the personal property tax you pay every year on the things you purchase for your business (cost varies). Isn’t it great? Buy something to help your business and pay tax on it year after year.

What happened to us recently, however, was a new one.

You might remember a blog sometime back where we talk about no matter how well you plan, the stuff hits the fan when you leave town for a little vacation time. So, it was just that type of trip. We flew out of town for three days – just three days.

Day Two, I get a call from my office manager that the Maryland Department of Agriculture is at Vircity. Maryland Department of what? Why in the world are they at Vircity?

Having just heard from a fellow business owner of a BGE scam, I was on the alert for scams. These men wanted to put weights on our scale to see if it weighed properly. They didn’t call, didn’t set an appointment with me, and who’s to say these weights they are putting on my scale actually weigh what they say they should? Sounded like a scam to me, being 2,000 miles away.

My staff didn’t know what to do so they let the men use their weights. The men claimed the scale was off and that they could take the scale but since it was off in the customer’s favor, not ours, they would leave it, but we had to get it fixed.

Well, it just so happens that there is a division of the Maryland Department of Agriculture that is in charge of weights and measures. I looked but did not find anything that talked about weighing packages.

Our business is an authorized FedEx ship center, meaning you come into our store and ship a package on our special FedEx account. We are then charged for your package based upon the dimensions and weight after they weigh your package at the main FedEx center before loading it on a plane. FedEx calculates their fees to us to the nearest pound. If we weigh the package incorrectly, they can charge us more but never less than what is marked on the package. So we use the scale to make sure we don’t lose money on the transaction since there’s nothing to say we couldn’t hold the package in our hands and guess the weight. And FedEx doesn’t ship anything less than 1 lb.

Well, I came back into town and did a search for companies that could calibrate the scale. Called one company in Timonium and they said they could calibrate it but it would take a month. Not sure how a business operates without a scale for four weeks. Finally, I called the manufacturer of the scale and they led me to Fairbanks Service on Yellow Brick Road. They made time to come in the next day and have my little scale tested and calibrated. They were was fantastic and I highly recommend them.

My bottom line – the State of Maryland was driving around to find businesses with scales to find another way of taxing us. I bet I get a bill for something. I did have to pay to have the scale calibrated but that doesn’t benefit the state. They did help me learn my scale was slightly off and I was losing money so I certainly thank them for that. I’m sure my customers don’t.

But aren’t their bigger fish to fry? My little scale does not sell food or gasoline. My scale is used for approximation purposes. Isn’t there a more efficient use of our tax dollars than scaring my sales associates while I’m out of town?