Restaurant owners address meals tax issues with Richmond: 'I felt like our voices were heard'

Posted at 8:40 AM, Jan 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-09 08:44:57-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond restaurant owner Samuel Veney said he felt like the city has finally taken steps in the right direction following a meeting Monday with City of Richmond leaders.

Veney, the co-owner of Philly Vegan restaurant, is one of several Richmond restaurant owners involved in a years-long back and forth with the city's Finance Department over meals tax payments.

"All the other meetings I had I felt like our voices were not heard, in this meeting today, I felt like our voices were heard," Veney said Monday.

Veney shared his meals tax story with CBS 6 last week after having difficulties resolving a $27,000 bill the city sent him in 2021 for unpaid meals taxes.

The bill ballooned to $37,000 after accumulating penalties and late fees during the time Veney said they were trying to figure things out with the city.

He said the only reason the restaurant didn’t pay meals taxes during the nine months in question was because a city employee who handled his paperwork told him not to pay. A mistake the city later admitted to making.

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"Justice, that’s all we’re looking for is fair and reasonable justice," Veney said Monday.

After Veney and other restaurant owners dealing with similar issues shared their stories, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney's Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders acknowledged the city needed to make improvements.

He said they hoped to automate their current system by the end of the year to improve communication and that there were meals tax cases that needed additional review, including the case of Philly Vegan.

"We are just hoping that our stories, our unified voices can lead to systemic change that can prevent this from happening to others, other businesses big or small," said Veney.

While the details of Monday's meeting remained private, Veney's lawyer called it a good first step.

"We wanted our voices heard, engage in actual discourse because all we’re asking for is equity in taxation, fairness in taxation, transparency in taxation, and government accountability," Veney's attorney Deandre Morrow said. "I think it was a progressive meeting, taking a step in the right direction but definitely think we have a way to go in making sure justice is achieved."

Veney said he hoped the impact of Philly Vegan’s journey reached far beyond the doors of their business.

"I recognize that it’s bigger than me and happy to take on the challenge of whatever may come," said Veney. "I’m passionate about my city, I’m passionate about our family, I’m passionate about our business and I am committed to doing whatever I can to assist."

Virginia Restaurant Association director Michael Byrne, who appeared at City Hall on Monday to support Philly Vegan and other restaurants meeting with the city, reiterated this is an issue that they're hoping to address at the state level with legislation in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session.

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