Is it retaliation? Or just bureaucracy?
The city has notified the Richmond Tea Party that it’s delinquent on its admissions, lodgings and meals taxes and therefore must undergo a comprehensive tax audit.
“It’s a little too coincidental,” says Colleen Owens, a spokeswoman for the Richmond Tea Party. The group’s been tussling with the city over what it says is preferential treatment given to the Occupy Richmond protestors.
The city has paid at least $17,640 for police, portable toilets and park cleanup associated with that weeks-long protest at Kanawha Plaza, as reported by Style Weekly.
Meanwhile, the city has charged the Richmond Tea Party more than $10,000 for holding its tax day rally at the plaza for the last three years, Owens says.
At the end of October, it sent the city an invoice requesting a refund. “The only response that we got was the audit letter,” she says.
Tammy Hawley, press secretary to Mayor Dwight Jones, says the city’s not targeting the Richmond Tea Party. “I can tell you definitively the mayor’s office is not monitoring who’s being audited,” Hawley says.
The group is just one of 700 that the city’s computer system recently identified as “nonfiling,” Hawley says, prompting letters to be sent. When its account was selected for review, the Richmond Tea Party hadn’t filed any of the required returns for 2010 and had filed only for January and February 2011, she says; the group since has filed all returns due for 2011 but not those for 2010.
Owens says the group’s treasurer sends in the required tax forms every month, even though it owes nothing. Typically, only hotels, restaurants, theaters and similar businesses must pay the meals, lodging and admissions taxes.
The group is challenging the audit. The initial letter sent by the city Nov. 14 required the group to furnish its 2010 tax return and other financial statements by Nov. 29 or risk the city calculating an assessment for it to pay. The Richmond Tea Party won’t furnish the documents by that date, Owens says, but instead will respond that its tax forms have been filed on time.
Occupy Richmond protestors have been camping on the lawn of Richmond Free Press Publisher and Editor Ray Boone -- who lives next door to Jones -- since Nov. 15, after the city evicted them from Kanawha Plaza.
Owens says the Richmond Tea Party probably won’t return to Kanawha for its April 15 tax day rally, which drew about 3,000 people last year: “Why keep going back to the city if this is how we’re going to be treated?”