Frustrated restaurant owner goes before Richmond City Council: 'How did this happen again?'

Posted at 5:44 PM, Feb 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-14 14:51:20-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond City Council voted Monday night to change the way it collects the meals tax from restaurant owners. The change is meant to address issues some Richmond restaurant owners have dealt with for years.

The new ordinance directs the city to apply meals tax payments to a restaurant's current tax bill, and not past overdue bills unless there was extra money in the payment to do so.

The city's old system caused confusion among some restaurant owners who thought they were caught up on payments only to learn late fees were compounding and they received tax bills in the thousands and in some cases, tens of thousands range.

Samuel Veney, who co-owners Philly Vegan in South Richmond, is one of those restaurant owners.

Confusion over his restaurant's meals tax status resulted in a $27,000 bill.

After several meetings with city leaders, Veney felt like things were back on track.

But then another letter from the city arrived at his restaurant.

"With all that I have going on, I just received a new letter, a new letter stating that my most recent payment went to a delinquent balance," Veney said while holding up the letter at Monday night's City Council meeting. "So instead of working tomorrow, I will be spending time going to the department of finance to figure out what balance that went to because it doesn't say that on there. How did this happen again?"

Veney said he shared the letter at the council meeting in frustration. He said that even if the letter was mistakenly sent, more needed to be done to prevent things like this from happening.

"This is more stuff we have to be concerned about, more stuff that we have to be stressed about when we thought we were getting things resolved," he said. "Even if this letter is in error, this error is placing more stress, more concern, and more time-consuming than it should ever be."

When asked about the letter, the City of Richmond responded it was, indeed, sent in error.

"We have been working on updating our payment system from the old legacy to RVApay. However, such a large-scale conversion takes time," the statement read. "Regarding the owner of Philly Vegan, he overstated the issue. He received a thank you letter for his payment, which also recognized a delinquency. The system automatically generates this type of letter, which we are working to re-program for business owners like him. We understand the owner's frustration and apologize for any inconvenience caused. However, a simple phone call or email would have clarified why he received the letter. We understand that our customers would like the process to be faster, but unfortunately, it is not as simple as flipping a switch. Updating the system involves a lot of backend work, and when dealing with numbers, outdated systems, and manual processes, it takes time to get everything right."

Veney said he understood that change takes time, but added he did not want to see business negatively impacted while waiting for the fix.

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