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A&P panel starts off restaurant audits

by Eplunus Colvin | October 28, 2021 at 3:06 a.m.
The Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission has plans to begin audits on food services and restaurant businesses by first doing a trial with their own commissioners. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)

The Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission has plans to begin audits on food services and restaurants by first doing a trial with their own commissioners.

Chairwoman Rosie Pettigrew, vice-chair Berinda Eugene and Commissioner Lelan Stice own foodservice businesses that would participate in the audit.

According to Sheri Storie, A&P Director, audits were put on hiatus because of the pandemic but the commission wanted to restart them in 2022. Storie said her office spends a lot of time chasing business owners whose taxes are delinquent.

George Stepps was hired as the compliance auditor, but his services never began, again, as a result of covid-19.

As a trial and error, the audit process would begin with the commissioners before going live with the general public, but some of the commissioners had concerns with the process.

According to Stepps, some delayed their responses.

The audit letter Pettigrew said she received did not provide enough time to gather all the paperwork requested within 10 days. In dealing with the state, Pettigrew added, she is given 30 days to make an appointment and then ample time afterward.

She also said that restaurant owners have faced many barriers through the pandemic and are revamping their menu, increasing their prices, and having to let their employees go.

Eugene said she didn't recall a vote that audits would be done on them or their peers.

"If it's in the ordinance, we don't have to vote on it," Storie said, adding the issue has been discussed with A&P commissions from the past. "It's something we need to do if we are going to be serious about collecting taxes."

According to City Ordinance 6669, the commission is charged with collecting the A&P tax.

The commission may make an examination or investigation of the place of business, the tangible personal property, equipment, and facilities, and the books, records, papers, vouchers, accounts, and documents of any taxpayer or other person.

Taxes are due and payable on the 20th day of each month and deemed delinquent if not paid on the first day of the next calendar month. Storie said delinquent tax payments have been a big part of collections.

The brick and mortars needed to pay their taxes, Storie also said.

"I think we should chase the little food trucks," Eugene said. "Those of us that are brick and mortar are fighting every day to keep our restaurants up."

With food costs up and local supplies down, Eugene said she has had to travel to other cities to purchase goods. She said food trucks are making $8,000 a weekend when restaurant owners are trying to make $8,000 in a month.

"Everybody is just trying to keep their doors open," Eugene said, adding the timing for an audit wasn't right.

If auditing wasn't put in effect soon, Storie felt, the budget might not be approved to where the commission is taking money out of their reserves to fund the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

"They are going to need a huge repair and we will not be able to help," she said. "Those are things we need to think about."

Stepps assured the commissioners that the results of the audits would not be public information. He said he had no problem working with the commissioners concerning the audits and giving them enough time.

Addressing the food trucks, Stepps said he chases down the food trucks and has even made house visits. Stepps said event organizers who bring food trucks must have an assessment fee paid.

He also had concerns about the operations of organizers that are sponsored but charged the vendors questioning how those funds the organizer collects were being spent.

Alderman and commission secretary Glen Brown Jr. chimed in, asking what is the commission's purpose as a tax collection board if it is not ready to start doing audits.

Cities like Conway, Storie said, never stopped audits during the pandemic. While other cities saw a decrease in tax revenue during the pandemic, Pine Bluff increased.

"We need to start somewhere," Brown said. Evaluating the commissioners first will give the commission a baseline to work with before making the process public, he said.

Pettigrew suggested a secured email be generated as an alternative method to sending confidential documents for the audit process.

The commissioners agreed that they would start a new audit process increasing the number of days from 10 to 30 and provide a secure email. They will also provide suggestions to improve the auditing process during the trial period.

"Disregard whatever letter you received," Storie said. "We'll make some changes and resend the revised letter."

Print Headline: A&P panel starts off restaurant audits

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