Atlanta Routinely Assessing Business Fee without Authority
(APN) ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta continues to assess and collect a five hundred dollar penalty to many Atlanta businesses without authority, despite the City being aware that they lack the authority to collect the fee, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.
This practice is disproportionately harming small businesses across Atlanta.
As of today, September 07, 2018, the City of Atlanta’s new business license application form, “New Business License Application 2018,” continues to erroneously state: “Per Ordinance 30-***, failure to apply for Business License within 30 days of start date will result in $500 penalty (non waiverable).”
However, the City of Atlanta Code of Ordinances Sec. 30-69(b) provides: “Any business registered with the business tax division in a previous year and which fails to register by the date specified in this article shall pay a late fee of $500.00 in addition to the tax due.”
This section clearly applies only to late renewals, not to late initial registrations.
However, the City claims that the fee applies to late initial registrations. Again, the application form states: “Per Ordinance 30-***, failure to apply for Business License within 30 days of start date will result in $500 penalty (non waiverable).”
Interestingly, the application form does not even cite a code section; it cites “30-***,” which is not a code section.
On April 02, 2018, Atlanta Progressive News made the Office of Revenue aware that they lacked authority to assess the fee.
On April 03, 2018, APN made Carl Christie in the Law Department aware that they lack authority to assess the fee.
In a recent conversation, Mr. Christie admitted that the code section does not authorize the City to assess the fee, adding that he believed it was an omission in the code.
This means that the Law Department is aware that the City lacks the authority, and has probably advised the City’s Office of Finance as such; and that the Department has chosen to knowingly continue to violate the law, harming Atlanta businesses.
On May 15, 2018, APN sent an email to then-Interim CFO Jim Gaffney entitled, “City Routinely Assessing Fee to Class of Atlanta Businesses without Authority.” Although Gaffney received the email, it did not result in the necessary changes to city practice.
On June 27, 2018, APN’s News Editor–the present writer–brought this information also to the attention of the Finance/Executive Committee of the City Council, during the public comment section of the meeting. Neither the Committee nor the Council has taken any oversight action to date.
On today, APN has sent an email to Amanda Noble, City Auditor, requesting that an audit be conducted to formally determine that this fee has been assessed without authority, to find out how many businesses have been assessed this fee without authority, and to determine any appropriate recourse, such as the need for refunds to be issued to Atlanta businesses.
APN has spoken with numerous small business owners and stakeholders who have various complaints with the City’s Office of Revenue.
One of the issues of concern is that the City of Atlanta continues to threaten business owners with arrest citation for nonpayment of assessed amounts, even when a business has already officially appealed their business tax assessment.
Councilman Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large) has introduced an ordinance, 18-O-1458, drafted by APN’s News Editor, to address this issue.
The ordinance states that while a business is appealing a business tax assessment, that the City shall take no further enforcement action except to process the appeal and communicate about the appeal.
The Administration is currently seeking a substitute to the Westmoreland ordinance that is outrageous and appalling, which would amend the code to state that a business is not even allowed to appeal unless they pay up front 75 percent of the assessed amount.
Thus, the City of Atlanta–the City that has already flaunted its disregard for business taxpayers and for the Code of Ordinances, and demonstrated its willingness to assess any amount it wishes, regardless of its statutory authority–now wants to require businesses to pay up front 75 percent of whatever amount it wishes to assess, in order for them to even have the right to appeal.
So, the City could apparently assess a business one million dollars for no reason, and unless the business comes up with 750,000 dollars, the business would have no way to even appeal the assessment.
If that example seems extreme, consider the fact that so far, no city mechanism from the Law Department to the Administration to the City Council has stood in the way of illegal, improper, and arbitrary assessments to date.
In addition, the City is seeking for the City Council to approve an increase in the annual fee paid by businesses from 75 dollars per year, to 125 dollars per year, regardless to the volume of revenue of the business.
That ordinance, 18-O-1299, is currently also held in Finance/Executive Committee.
(END / Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)