published Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Wallets empty, 3 hotels tell tax man

by Dan Whisenhunt

Three hotels owe the county more than $250,000 in local hotel and motel taxes, a list that includes the historic Delta Queen and the Town & Country Inn on East 23rd Street.

Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander said estimates show the Comfort Suites on Williams Street in Chattanooga owes more than $200,000 and has been delinquent since 2008. He said the county is trying to collect the money.

The Delta Queen owes $40,000, from April to July of 2010, and Town & Country Inn owes $10,000 from September 2010 through January 2011.

Hullander said these are the only three hotels his office considers “seriously behind” — more than three months — in their hotel-motel tax payments.

Employees at the Comfort Suites did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

The Trustee’s Office collects hotel/motel taxes for Hamilton County and the cities of Chattanooga and East Ridge. The delinquent sums represent county and city taxes.

The tax rate, which is a percentage of the room rate, is 4 percent in the county. Additionally, hotels in Chattanooga pay another 4 percent room tax and hotels in East Ridge pay a 2 percent city hotel room tax, in addition to the county levy.

Lee Ann and Randy Ingram have operated the Delta Queen since August and have made a bid to buy the floating hotel from Seattle-based Ambassadors International Inc.

“They’re working with us, we’re working with them trying to resolve this problem,” Hullander said. He said the news came as a “shock” to the Ingrams.

Vanessa Bloy, director of public relations for Ambassadors International, said the company was not aware of the delinquency.

Robin Derryberry, a spokeswoman for the Delta Queen, said, “Like all businesses, the contract operators of the Delta Queen are concerned about the tax issue.”

Jeff McFarland, who is reported to be one of the new owners of Town & Country Inn, said Wednesday the tax problem will be addressed by the previous owners, David and Steven Bernstein. The U.S. Department of Labor is looking into allegations the Bernsteins owe former employees back wages.

The taxes are due by the 20th of every month for the previous month. If the taxpayer is declared delinquent, the fine is $50 per day, according to Hullander and the trustee’s website.

Hullander said if the taxes remain unpaid, the county has some options, including placing a lien on the property, closing the business or filing a lawsuit.

Hullander said he would prefer to take the delinquent taxpayers to court if they do not turn in the money.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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