21 Aug 2014
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Facing Back Taxes, Town Could Shut Down Three Consignment Shops

One business owes nearly $40,000 in back taxes.

Facing Back Taxes, Town Could Shut Down Three Consignment Shops
Updated: The story has been updated to clarify that Lina Piccolina and Karma Couture do not owe any back taxes. They are tenants of buildings whose owners who owe tax payments to the town. We regret and apologize for the error.

The Town Council on Monday delayed a vote renewing second hand dealer licenses for three local businesses on account of mounting past-due tax bills for the buildings they're housed, including one business that is behind nearly $40,000 in back property, sewer and old fire district taxes.

At Worth Repeating, business and building owner Arlette Cornwall said cash flow has been tight. She told the council that she would pay $14,000 before April was over, $4,000 in May and offered a payment plan of $800 per month — an amount she said she knew she could afford.

The other businesses — Lina Piccolina, whose landlord owes nearly $8,000 in property taxes and sewer fees and Karma Couture, whose landlord owes  just $108 — were not represented at the meeting but all three are essentially on notice that their landlords must pay up soon or face license non renewal.

"I think it's unfair to other shop owners and people on Main Street to essentially have a situation where they are supporting people who are not making payments," said Councilor Mark Watkins Gee.

Gee said it was a tough situation as he knows Cornwall and described her as a "fine lady" and a friend. But he said he "cannot put taxpayers in a situation" where businesses that don't pay their taxes are given a pass.

"Anything longer than [a 30-day extension] and you have to face reality," Gee said, telling Cornwall she has to ask herself: "is there a problem? What do we do to fix it? Is the business viable going forward?"

Town Councilor Jeff Cianciolo said $40,000 is a lot of money and noted that the council was in a similar situation with both Rok Bar and Grill and Norman's, both of which were unable to make amends and closed. 

"The timetable you're proposing doesn't resonate with me," Cianciolo told Cornwall, referencing her promises for the immediate lump payment and the $800 per month offer.

Councilor Bradford Bishop concurred, noting that $800 per month wouldn't make much of a dent factoring in fees and new taxes. He asked whether Cornwall had explored borrowing against other assets to pay the town back.

Cornwall said she has considered it, contacted the lien holder on the building to see if she could refinance, but the loan officer was on vacation this past week. And she said she understood the council's reservations, but the $800 offer was what she could pay. 

"I wanted to make a commitment that I knew I could fulfill," she said. "I would have been happier to say $1,500 per month, which would cut the time in half, however. . .I am not prepared to commit to that today."

Councilor Michael S. Kiernan was sympathetic towards Cornwall and urged the council to consider working with her to make amends. 

"I get what you're saying, we all need to pay our taxes," Kiernan said. "But she's making a substantial, real effort to keep this thing going. For me, it's give the woman more than 30 days. I get it's a lot of money outstanding, but she's making an effort here."

Suggestions that Cornwall work closely with the town to come up with a long-term repayment plan of some sort raised questions of appropriateness. 

Gee said he was concerned about the Town Manager getting involved in the situation, saying he "didn't think it's the job of the Town Manager or the town to get into the particulars of working out a financial arrangement."

"If I were in your situation, I'd be saying to myself 'you know, I have $40,000 in accounts payable and my cash flow is X amount,'" he said. "What you need to do is [determine] if either you can make it or can't make it."

The council ultimately voted to continue the vote on renewals to June 9.

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