ESP SALES PROBLEM Several local businesses are complaining about being hit with bills for sales taxes on statements from Energy Services of Pensacola. The gas utility has a problem that was discovered when the Florida Department of Revenue audited its records for the period from Sept. 1, 2006 through Aug. 31, 2009.
ESP staff incorrectly coded several businesses as “tax-exempt” and failed to collect sales taxes from them. Of 1,800 marked as tax-exempt by ESP, 257 accounts were deemed taxable, resulting in $343,258.15 due in back sales taxes for the period. The 257 accounts break down into 136 active customers owing $317,634.35 and 121 inactive customers owing $25,623.50.
Crown Laundry owes the largest amount in back taxes, $140,781. The list of active customers includes many area restaurants such as Miller’s Ale House ($11,848), Chili’s ($5,364) and King Buffet ($15,132), and the Courtyard by Marriott ($7,647). Industrial customers on the list include APAC-Southeast ($14,533), Block USA ($11,945) and Mocar Oil ($6,630).
On June 1, 2010, the City notified all affected customers of the sales tax audit. Active customers were billed in October for the back sales taxes and have been given 12 to 18 months to pay the deficiency.
City Manager Al Coby notified the City Council in October of the issue. In his memo to the council, Coby wrote, “The City was able to join the State’s amnesty program which forgives all penalties and one-third of the interest. In order to join the amnesty program, the City was required to pay $272,675.23 of the amount due by Sept. 30, 2010. Interest calculations have not been finalized by the FDOR but are estimated to be around $15,000 and will be paid by ESP.”
The balance due was paid in October.
Coby told the IN that the City has been working with and has received cooperation from the businesses affected and has been able to work out amicable repayment plans with all.
Not all business owners are happy. One wrote the IN, “We’ve been fortunate to keep our doors open during this very difficult economy, but this mistake by ESP will likely put us out of business and employees out of work.”
MINORITY PARTICIPATION LOW No one on the Pensacola City Council challenged the minority participation report from Maritime Park Development Partners that was given at the council committee meetings on Nov. 15.
The MPDP representatives told the council that as of October, they had contracted for $12 million of which about 14.5 percent has been with minority-owned businesses, and 88 percent has been locally-owned businesses. According to the Covenant with the Community, the contractors must reflect the demographics of the community, which would put required minority participation at about 30 percent.
On Aug. 31, George Hawthorne, CEO of Diversity Program Advisors, filed a formal complaint with the CMPA board against MPDP for non-compliance and bad faith dealings in regard to the Contractor’s Academy, its Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) agreement and the Covenant. He also cited the lack of any mentorship program.
CMPA attorney Ed Fleming was assigned the task of reviewing the complaint and MPDP’s compliance. He found a material breach by the developer in its EBO commitments and in its failing to comply with its contractual requirements relating to the Contractor’s Academy, especially with its commitment to spend $250,000 on the said academy to increase the pool of eligible minority subcontractors.
MPDP replied to Hawthorne’s letter and claimed the requirement for mentorship was only applicable “where economically feasible.” It said that any Diversity Outreach Program is “elective in nature.”
In replying to Fleming’s findings, MPDP wrote that “1) there was no basis for Mr. Fleming’s conclusions, 2) MPDP is in compliance with the terms of the EBO Agreement between the parties, and 3) there is no material breach of obligations by MPDP.”
MPDP asserted in their response that there is “no separate Contractor’s Academy” and not having one doesn’t violate the EBO agreement, any training isn’t required but only elective, and there is no timeline for its funding for the EBO program.
YOUTH VOTES INCREASE The mid-term elections traditionally have a lower voter turnout than years with presidential races. Comparing the 2006 general election with the most recent 2010 general election, Escambia County saw a 24-percent jump in votes under age 31, the largest percentage increase over 2006 figures for any age group tracked by the Supervisor of Elections.
Over age 61 crowd still dominates the voting in the county, casting over 38 percent of the votes on Nov. 2. The only age group that appears to be shrinking is the age group 41-50, which had a 2.4-percent drop in voters.
The African-American vote also has increased since 2006. The percentage increase for black voters was 34 percent, 4,248 more votes in 2010 than 2006.
COMMISSIONER SWORN Escambia County Commissioners Gene Valentino and Grover Robinson, IV were sworn in on Tuesday, Nov. 16 in BCC chambers packed with elected officials, county employees and citizens. Judge John Simon swore in Valentino, and Judge Bill Stafford handled Robinson.
In his speech after the ceremony, Valentino called his re-election a mandate from the voters. He praised his precinct system and his “Coffee with the Commissioners” for keeping his office transparent. He promised to continue working for the voters.
Robinson pointed to many capital improvements in his district, which includes Pensacola Beach. He thanked the staff for working so hard during the BP crisis, and quoted Winston Churchill: “Never have so many been served by so few.”
As per BCC policy for rotating the chair, the board chairmanship was passed to District 5 Kevin White, with District 1 Wilson Robertson as the vice chair.
MORGAN HELPS TRANSITIONS Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan has been named to Governor-Elect Rick Scott’s Law and Order Transition Team. In his press release, Scott said that he is “sending a seasoned team of law enforcement, corrections and public safety professionals on a fact-finding mission to help him identify ways to reduce the size of government, ensure safer neighborhoods across Florida and transform the manner in which we reduce crime, provide rehabilitation services and incarcerate criminals.”
Morgan has also been named to Attorney General-Elect Pam Bondi’s transition team. He will serve on the Gang Reduction Task Force with Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats and Bennie Holder, former Tampa Police Chief.