Friday February 12th, 2016 9:37PM

Helen lodging company may face criminal charges if taxes not remitted

By Rob Moore Reporter
HELEN - One Helen lodging company is being given two weeks to remit to the city months of outstanding hotel/motel tax. Otherwise, the company may find itself on the wrong side of the law.

That's because as of Tuesday A-1 Vacation Rentals hadn't remitted to the city four months of hotel/motel tax collections.

"Right now they're four months behind," City Manager Jerry Elkins told the Helen City Commission Tuesday. "The same period last year they remitted to us a little over $16,000 in hotel/motel tax."

Elkins referred the matter to Helen City Attorney Carl Free for discussion.

Free said hotel/motel taxes are supposed to be remitted by the 20th of each month, and failure to do so may result in civil and criminal penalties.

"If they don't pay their taxes, then they can be cited both criminally with a misdemeanor charge, and then there are civil penalties that are statutorally calculated," Free said. "My suggestion would be notify them that if they don't remit the taxes by X date that they will be charged, both criminally and the civil penalties will be imposed."

Commissioner Helen Wilkins asked if anyone had heard from the business owner.

"We've contacted them," Elkins said. "They paid for September and didn't pay for August. The ones not paid is July, August, October and November. Of course July is one of your largest months and October is one of your largest months."

Free said since the business owes for four months, it would be four separate misdemeanor violations, in addition to the civil penalties.

"Those are very significantly in arrears," Free said. "I don't think most people realize it's also a criminal violation in addition to a civil violation. If you run any kind of rental business/hotel business, the code requires you collect this tax. It's not a City of Helen thing, it's state law."

The city commission agreed that the outstanding hotel/motel tax must be remitted by the date of its next meeting on Jan. 21, or the establishment will be cited and face civil penalties.

"At this point, they're in violation clearly," Free said. "They could be issued a citation today if the city chose to do so."

In response to a question from Commissioner Fred Garmon about communication with the company, Elkins said, "They'd pay a month and skip a month. They are fully aware that they are in arrears."

Free said not remitting to the city the taxes collected is against the law.

"If you don't pay your state taxes, Georgia Department of Revenue will come after you," Free said. "If you don't pay federal taxes, the IRS will come after you. This is a tax just like that. They're required under the law to collect it - it's a state law requirement."

Elkins said he sees this situation as even more serious than simply not paying what you owe, because this company collected a tax on behalf of government.

"If they don't remit it to us, they're stealing it from us," Elkins said.

"Correct," Free said. "For whatever reason if they don't collect it, that's also a criminal violation. You're required to collect it. It should be sitting there to be paid to the city."

Garmon said the company should be as legally bound to pay the hotel/motel tax to the city as it is to pay the sales tax.

No one from the lodging company was present at Tuesday's meeting.

Company representatives went to Helen City Hall Wednesday afternoon and paid two months of the outstanding hotel/motel tax.

"So far they have paid two months, and they will either be back before the 21st and pay the rest of it or come to the commission meeting on the 21st and talk to the commissioners about it," Elkins confirmed.
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