Registration Open for Bike to Work Day — Cyclists interested in participating in Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17, can register online. There are three official pit stops in Arlington — Freshbikes in Ballston (3924 Wilson Blvd), Gateway Park in Rosslyn (1300 Lee Hwy) and Crystal City Water Park (1750 Crystal Drive). There will also be a stop in East Falls Church along the W&OD Trail near the intersection of Lee Hwy and N. Washington Street. Last year, a record 12,700 people in the D.C. area participated in the event.
Possibility of Another Record Low Year for Tax Delinquencies — If Arlington residents continue paying their taxes as expected, the county could experience another record low for its tax delinquency rate. Treasurer Frank O’Leary says the current delinquency rate is 0.397 percent, which is below the 0.47 percent for Fiscal Year 2012. FY 2012 had the lowest tax delinquency rate in recorded county history. [Sun Gazette]
Amnesty International 5K Run for Rights on Saturday — Amnesty International will be holding its first 5K Run for Rights at 8:00 a.m. this Saturday, March 30. The race begins at Bluemont Park. Online registration closes tonight (Thursday) at 7:00 p.m., but on-site registration will be offered on race day. More details are available on the event’s Facebook page.
By law, restaurants collect a 4 percent food and beverage (“meals”) tax in Arlington on top of the 5 percent state sales tax. The meals tax is then to be remitted to the county. But some restaurants — especially restaurants experiencing financial difficulties — simply pocket the money and accrue a debt to the county.
Frustrated by weak enforcement measures, O’Leary is seeking the power to seize and shut down restaurants that continue to accrue large meals tax debts, with no end to the delinquency in sight.
“What we would like to do is get the power to close down restaurants that are going deeper and deeper into debt,” he told ARLnow.com. “What they’re doing is essentially criminal. You can’t charge people tax on their meals and keep it for yourself, no matter how pressing your problems are. That money belongs to the county.”
O’Leary said he has been meeting with members of Arlington’s delegation to Richmond and is hoping to get a law passed in the state legislature’s upcoming session.
The effort is an uphill battle, however; the Republican majority in the state legislature has been reluctant to pass tax-related bills, especially those sought by Arlington County. O’Leary says he plans to argue that the measure could benefit the state’s coffers. He says restaurants that aren’t paying their meals taxes might be skimping on their state sales taxes, too.
Part of the challenge of enforcing the meals tax is the nature of the restaurant business itself. The county can seize property from tax cheats, but restaurants often operate in rented spaces with rented furniture and rented kitchen equipment.
“There’s very little to actually confiscate,” O’Leary said.
Restaurant owners are also able to keep the tax man at bay by offloading their personal property to others. His proverbial white whale, chef and restaurateur Roberto Donna, managed to get away with pocketing some $140,000 in meals taxes — for awhile, at least — in part because most of his personal property, like his McLean mansion, was in his wife’s name. O’Leary took the extraordinary step of having Donna prosecuted, but he avoided jail time and is now paying off his debt at a rate of a mere $500 per month.
O’Leary said he even considered having Donna extradited back to Italy, but decided he’d rather have the famous chef make his paltry debt payments than no payments at all.
Should O’Leary get his way, sheriff’s deputies would be dispatched to a severely delinquent restaurant to post closure notices on the doors and change the locks, so restaurant owners aren’t able to remove any property.
“Nothing else seems to work,” he said. “What we really need to do is stop them from operating. That’s the only thing I can think of to solve the problem.”
Even if his lobbying efforts prove unsuccessful, though, O’Leary has another trick up his sleeve: public shaming.
This month, the treasurer’s office is sending a mailing to tax delinquent restaurants, warning the owners that their tax delinquencies will be publicized in the media and on the county’s web site should they not agree to a repayment plan. Should any restaurants continue to flout the tax laws, O’Leary says he hopes Arlington residents will take note and do as he does: not dine there.
If the past five special elections are a guide, Democrats will need to muster about 10,000 votes to win tomorrow’s County Board special election.
Clement received 9,728 votes in the 2011 November general election, when she was the sole challenger to Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, who both ended up winning reelection. Kelly received 20,570 votes to Democratic incumbent Chris Zimmerman’s 32,894 votes in November 2010. Special elections, however, tend to attract far fewer voters.
As detailed in an email from Arlington County Treasurer and amateur election statistician Frank O’Leary (see table, above), the turnout for special elections has ranged between 18,000 and 22,000 over the past 22 years, compared to the more than 57,000 votes cast in the 2010 County Board election. In two of those special elections — 1993 and 1999 — low turnout helped to propel a Republican to victory over a Democrat.
O’Leary thinks tomorrow may see near-record low turnout, thanks in part to voter fatigue. Democrats voted in a primary in August, a general election in November, a caucus in January, and are now being asked to go to the polls yet again. Plus, there’s the issue of party unity.
“Some may still be nursing grudges as a result of the five dimensional recent Democratic primary (which evidenced a dismal turnout, even allowing for winter weather),” O’Leary noted. That opens up the opportunity for Clement or Kelly to pull out a surprise victory, if either can get enough voters to the polls.
Since 1990, no Democrat has received fewer than 9,143 votes in a County Board special election. At the same time, no Republican (or third party) has received more than 9,788 votes. As such, 10,000 may be the magic number for any of the three candidates.
The expected rush of residents paying their county taxes at the last minute didn’t happen as originally thought. County Treasurer Frank O’Leary predicted around 2,600 people would show up on Wednesday to pay their vehicle personal property tax and installment two of the county’s real estate tax in person, but the number was actually 2,201.
That day alone brought in almost $6.5 million for the county, making the total amount collected from walk-ins during the final week $30.7 million. Compare that with 2009, when 2,799 people showed up on the final day and paid nearly $11.8 million, with the final week totaling $35.8 million.
O’Leary notes that printing trouble last year caused the tax bills to be sent out 10 days late, so the deadline was extended by 10 days, to October 15. That made comparisons to 2010 invalid so 2009 numbers are used for comparisons instead. The 2009 numbers were also adjusted to take into consideration the new technology system this year.
Technology upgrades and an extra register made the process move smoothly. O’Leary also credits “alternative” payment methods such as online tax payments with making things easier.
He said, “My promise that no customer would wait more than six minutes for service was easily fulfilled.”
Overall, the number of people choosing to pay in person has declined by more than 1,200 people, or nearly 17%, since 2009. O’Leary also noticed that immigrants, who make up the majority of walk-in payments on the due date, didn’t arrive in the same volume as previous years.
Workers in the Treasurer’s Office plan to analyze information gathered by the new technology. O’Leary says it will help to better determine who pays, when, and how.
“Our tax party isn’t very popular any more,” Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary said with a smile this afternoon, as residents trickled into the county government building in Courthouse (2100 Clarendon Blvd) to make last-minute tax payments. Thanks to a clockwork-like directing-and-collecting operation, some 25 county staffers strong, lines have remained relatively short on what is traditionally a very busy tax deadline day.
“A year ago, you would have had a sea of humanity here,” said O’Leary, who has served as Treasurer for 28 years. “So far, that’s not the case…. This is the lightest due date in my history.”
After handling about 1,600 in-person tax payments on Monday, and 1,800 payments on Tuesday, O’Leary guessed last night that his office would have to handle about 2,600 payments today. That, O’Leary says, now seems like an overestimation.
“The biggest story this year is there is no story,” he said. “We were surprised.”
“Ahh, it’s not like the old days,” one Treasurer’s office employee was overheard saying to a colleague.
O’Leary credited the work of employees from the Treasurers office and the Commissioner of Revenue’s office for keeping things moving. He also said that “alternative” payment methods he’s worked to put in place over the years — from online tax payments to instituting tax payments at banks — have also helped.
The biggest change from past years O’Leary has noticed is that immigrants — who make up the overwhelming majority of in-person taxpayers on the due date — aren’t here in the numbers of previous years.
Tax payment stations — including the usual Treasurers counter on the second floor and an “express” area set up on the first floor — will remain open until 5:00 tonight.
Election Day in Virginia — Voters are going to the polls in Virginia today to vote in a rare mid-August primary. In addition to the date, which was pushed back thanks to this year’s redistricting process, this year’s election is unique because it features “more Latino candidates on the ballot than ever before in General Assembly races… running for both Democratic and Republican nominations.” Arlington’s 51 polling places will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. today. [NBC Washington, Arlington County]
O’Leary Predicts High Turnout — Arlington County Treasurer and amateur election prognosticator Frank O’Leary believes that about 11,850 votes will be cast today, seven times the turnout of the 2007 primary. O’Leary based his projection on the number of absentee votes cast this year, which is higher than usual. [Sun Gazette]
Wedding Interrupted by Tow Truck — An Indian wedding procession in Ballston was interrupted over the weekend when the truck and trailer that transported the groom’s white horse to the area was towed from a parking lot. According to a witness, wedding organizers eventually talked the tow truck driver into dropping the truck. [ARLnow Forums]
Flickr pool photo by Philliefan99