Richmond completes 236 meals tax reviews, this Richmond restaurant owner feels left in the dark

Posted at 6:37 PM, Apr 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-29 18:37:50-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Hundreds of business accounts possibly impacted by Richmond's meals tax issues still need to be reviewed by the city, as a spokesperson revealed the city is about halfway through its review process. Trey Owens, owner of Soul Taco in Downtown Richmond, said Monday that he still has questions about the status of his account.

He said he doesn't know yet whether his account has been reviewed, whether any of his late fees will be cleared, and how much he'll still have to pay the City of Richmond.

“It’s been very frustrating. It almost feels anti-business," Owens said.

While Owens has a story that may sound similar to many other restaurant owners' stories, it took a little longer for Owens to want to speak out.

“Just didn't feel right coming forward to say anything about it. It's kind of embarrassing," Owens said.

Owens said he didn't find out that he was delinquent on his meals tax account until a year and a half ago.

Before that, he said the city did not notify him that he had an outstanding balance.

Now, he said he owes up to $150,000, but that's just his best guess.

“Once it got to an amount that they felt was egregious, then it was just like, ‘Hey, you owe,'" Owens said.

According to a recent audit, 673 business owners in Richmond had an outstanding balance on their meals tax account totaling almost $11 million as of February.

But many of those businesses didn't know that they owed.

The auditor found that 283 of them did not receive a notification from the finance department indicating a delinquency.

So for many businesses, they remitted their usual monthly payments, not realizing that those payments didn't completely cover the penalties and interest that were quietly piling on.

Three hundred ninety businesses did receive at least one letter indicating that they submitted an insufficient payment.

However, those letters did not contain detailed information about how much the businesses actually owed.

This tax collection process prompted dozens of business owners to voice frustrations.

“Does it make me want to open another restaurant in the city? Absolutely not. And can I understand why other people want to leave? Hell yeah," Owens said.

After restaurant owners started coming forward at the beginning of the year, the city announced it would undergo manual reviews of delinquent accounts and pause all late fees in the meantime.

City spokesperson Petula Burks said 236 accounts have been resolved so far.

Two hundred and fifty-six accounts still need to be reviewed.

Burks said she could not comment on Soul Taco's account; however, she said the city has called, emailed, and mailed businesses whose accounts have been reviewed and finalized.

She said business owners are being made aware of the outcomes of the city's reviews.

Owens said he signed up for a repayment plan, but he claimed the city has not been in communication with him regarding his account.

“There's no consideration given for the fact that I'm trying to actually run a business and take care of my employees and things like that. It's just like, 'Pay us this and pay us at this time or we'll just shut you down.' And that in and of itself just doesn't make sense because if you shut me down and I generate no money then you don't get any taxes. So you know, make it make sense," Owens said.

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