The gift that keeps on taking

Nearly everyone wants to see a thriving business community in Pine Bluff. There’s similar unanimity that additional stores and restaurants would make our town a more inviting place in which to live. In short, we’re all pro-business and pro-growth. That said, the owners of those businesses should be good corporate citizens.

Based on the recent closure of two particularly egregious tax-scofflaws by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the state government appears to share the sentiment. As recently reported, ADFA shuttered Domino’s Pizza restaurants at 4804 Dollarway Road and 2300 South Olive Street for non-payment of state sales taxes.

Readers will recall that these same businesses also owe the city nearly $90,000 in back taxes. Allowing businesses such as these to operate while in great arrears is tantamount to suborning theft from the public. Patronizing businesses who are known tax evaders is similarly misguided.

Just to put a point on it, these businesses have already collected the state and local taxes. The owners simply chose not to forward them to the rightfully owed governmental bodies. Even so, they were permitted to operate unfettered.

It might be tempting to blame the current administration for allowing this situation to persist, but according to Bob Purvis, Pine Bluff Convention Center and Visitors Bureau’s chief executive officer and overseer of the city-imposed hamburger and hotel levies, the Olive Street restaurant was “at least four years” behind on its local tax payments while the Dollarway location was “about two years” in arrears. Yet again, sins of a previous mayoral administration have come home to roost.

It should be noted that Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth (along with members of the city council) attempted a collection effort earlier this year. Unfortunately, that process was thwarted by logistical complications and accusations of overly-selective enforcement. The intent appeared pure. The application didn’t. Lessons learned… we hope.

That misstep aside, we back Hollingsworth’s renewed commitment to collecting the money owed — not just by Domino’s owner, Bobby Ladd — but by any business owner who thinks the laws don’t apply them to them.

On the matter of Ladd’s unmet obligations — a situation complicated by a bankruptcy filing — Purvis said, “If I can’t get (the overdue taxes) here, state law says that the owners of a corporation can be personally assessed a penalty equal to the amount of taxes owed. So, Domino’s corporate heads may be looking at having to satisfy the debt. Individuals are often shielded by corporations, but the state recognizes that someone is ultimately responsible.”

The last part of Purvis’ observation, “Individuals are often shielded by corporations, but the state recognizes that someone is ultimately responsible,” ought to be chiseled above the doorway to the City Council chambers. A live human being, not a shadow corporation, is responsible — whatever the misdeed. A human can be fined. A human can be jailed.

There are innumerable situations all across our community that could be remedied if only the local government would remember that. Think about all the derelict and abandoned property — property that the city government acknowledges as the source of many civic ills. Too often the owners are permitted to hide behind the thin legal veil of corporate protection.

If we summoned the moral courage to throw back the curtain on these other issues, just think what we could accomplish. Until such time as we demonstrate sufficient resolve to deal with flagrant, out-in-the-open tax thieves, all other malefactors know their misdeeds will go unchecked. We need a symbol of governmental commitment. This is a good place to start.