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[whitespace] BID welchers slide, despite amnesty plan

Willow Glen--For some Willow Glen merchants operating within the Business Improvement District (BID) on Lincoln Avenue, death may be a certainty, but taxes aren't. Successfully disproving the old adage, some of them haven't paid their annual BID fees since 1996.

According to Willow Glen Business and Professional Association manager Demetri Rizos, around 30 Willow Glen BID members owed a combined total of $10,000 in unpaid taxes--money that the WGBPA has been waiting four years for the city to collect--before an amnesty period was declared in 1996.

Now that the amnesty program is over, 32 businesses owe a combined total of $10,655.

"I didn't see any change during the amnesty period," Rizos says.

During the three-month program, which ran from Sept. 13 through Dec. 15, merchants along downtown Lincoln Avenue who pay fees to the WGBPA could pay past due taxes owed to the city without penalty.

For most of these businesses, it's only a matter of paying the December renewal, Rizos says. But for a small percentage--six merchants accounting for about $5,175--it's a continuous pattern of late or skipped payments, some going back as far as 1996.

"Our next step will probably be small claims court or a collection agency," says Jessica Batinich, deputy director of finance.

Leading the list of delinquent accounts, according to city records, is Park Place Antiques, owing $1,689. The city says Park Place has owed the money since 1996. Owner Linda Garcia, however, says it is the city's mistake.

"They erased my account from the computer," she says. "So now it's up to me to show them that I have paid. Now I've got to go through all my boxes and find my old receipts from years and years ago."

Roger Pickler, senior investigator for the city, would not comment on the Park Place account.

Real estate agent Ron Giomi at 1165 Lincoln Ave. owes $954 in delinquent funds, according to the city. Giomi refused to comment. H2 Enterprises at 1261 Lincoln Ave. owes $602 in delinquent BID taxes. Owner Sossy Makdessian did not return numerous phone calls made by The Resident.

Three businesses that have since closed down--Willow Glen Auto, MKD Realty and Louis Rosendin--account for the remaining $1,929 in hardcore delinquent BID taxes.

"It's a very small percentage of people who are delinquent but it's significant to our budget," Rizos says. "We need the money. We have a new directory we need to put out, we have our website, we would like to get our sidewalk steamcleaned at least once a month--we would like to be able to give the money back to the members."

One-third of WGBPA revenues come from the business-assessment tax. Retail businesses pay $240 annually, non-retail shops pay $120 and banks pay $500. In return, association members are included in special events, including quarterly mixers, Dancing on the Avenue and Founders Day.

Rizos blames the city for the unsuccessful BID collection.

"They weren't aggressive enough," he says. "The BID is not a priority for the city. The amount of money is a drop in the bucket compared to what they collect in the business license tax for the city. It' s disenchanting because it's the city's job--it is the agreement we have with the city. If they don't want to pursue the money we would be more than happy to take over the accounts and take them to our local collection agency, but that's not the agreement."

The city sends the BID bills in the mail. But they only collect on delinquent BID accounts if the business is also delinquent on its business tax paid to the city.

Roger Pickler, investigator for the city, demonstrates that Rizos is correct: "The $10,000 in delinquent BID taxes may seem like a lot, but compared to the rest of the business tax it is so small, and it takes a lot of effort to collect," Pickler says. "We don't see any money for doing any of the work for the BIDs."
Jessica Lyons

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