In its first meeting since March, the Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission agreed to focus on businesses that are delinquent on paying their monthly A&P tax remittance, either getting them to get a permit, pay or cease doing business.
“When the world stopped [because of COVID-19], we were right on the cusp of taking more aggressive action trying to collect on some people,” City Attorney Buck Gibson said. “What I would suggest is that we resume actions to enforce what the vendors in this community are required to do to collect and remit the advertising and tourism promotion tax and to the extent that those persons either ... participate by getting a permit or refuse to pay then take the next step and try to collect that from them and revoke their ability to engage in business with the city.”
According to a list requested from the city of Searcy, the following businesses have not remitted any A&P collections since the tax passed by the Searcy City Council in March 2019 went into effect that June: CJ’s Cajun Station, Daisy’s Lunchbox, Dora Express, El Paraiso Acapulco, Highway 55-Searcy Burgers & Shakes, Kroger Delta Marketing, Marco’s Pizza, Savor & Sip and The Mixing Bowl.
Commission member Tommy Centola asked Gibson how many businesses were working without permits and Gibson said, “I’d say 10.” Gibson said Wednesday that the city had reached out to six of those businesses.
“We haven’t done anything because at the end of the day we didn’t necessarily want to be seen as prohibiting people from engaging in business during a global crisis, and we’re still in that crisis,” he said. “They still have to comply. Our office is going to take action to pick up where we were and seek compliance by vendors who refuse to comply with our ordinance.”
Commission Chairman Chris Howell asked Gibson how this will be communicated to the businesses that need to pay.
“Through correspondence and I’m going to try to make due contact by telephone to someone in a management position,” Gibson said. “We will have two levels of correspondence. One is folks who don’t have a permit at all – we’re going to say you have two issues, no permit and no remitted – and there are other people who have a permit and haven’t remitted.
“They are going to have to do this in 30 days. If they don’t do this in 30 days, we’re going to take the next step, their ability to do business will be taken away.”
Mayor Kyle Osborne’s assistant Lillie Cook said she has spoken to one of the delinquent businesses’ manager and he asked her if she received any payments because he said he had told the owner but the owner wasn’t doing anything.
Howell mentioned that the A&P tax turned a year old in June and if businesses don’t have their permit at this time, “shame on you.”
Gibson said the businesses that aren’t paying are taking advantage of the efforts of all the other businesses that having been paying and are trying to make the community a better place.
Commission member Brian Mayhall asked Gibson if the businesses that were collecting the tax but not remitting it were not in a bad state with the state somehow. Gibson said unlike the state sales tax , the A&P tax is one that is collected locally. “Everything else is related to the state.”
Gibson said the majority of businesses “obviously believe in our community and have done exactly what we’ve asked them to do. There are just a few we are going to have to deal with. My strong hope is they [the businesses not paying] will understand the need to play by the same set of rules everyone else is.”
Cook said she has had personal contract with every delinquent business and spoke to the owners repeatedly. “One guy was like, ‘Oh yeah, OK, I’ll get that check written and sent right to you. That has been a year and I have called him three times. Every single place on this list I have called.”
By the August meeting, Gibson said the delinquent businesses will be contacted about making their payments. “What we’re doing is picking up where we were five months ago.”
Howell said the commission does not want to hurt businesses, “but at some point in time there is only so much we can do: it’s up to them to comply. Let’s get closer to solving this problem by next meeting.”
Howell said the bank balance of the A&P Commission is $704,148.20. So far since 2019, the tax has collected $985,142.08.