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Cannon owes public parking tax details

Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon says he didn’t know his parking company wasn’t paying its city taxes correctly. That’s a problem, as is the fact that there’s still so much the public doesn’t know.

Did Cannon’s firm, E-Z Parking, avoid paying required taxes on its lots? We don’t know. How much tax might his company have avoided? We don’t know. How long have these mistakes been going on? Why do other Charlotte parking companies know the letter of the law and appear to be following it while the mayor’s firm isn’t? Did Cannon’s company get preferential treatment because he was a City Council member for much of the past two decades? We don’t know.

Is anyone trying to find answers to these questions? Thankfully, yes.

It’s time for the mayor and the Mecklenburg County tax collector’s office to go out of their way to be transparent about this situation. Perhaps Cannon’s firm paid the required tax and this is just a matter of missed paperwork. Either way, as the city’s leading elected official, Cannon must be proactive about getting to the bottom of it, and sharing information with the public.

The Observer’s Steve Harrison reported in Monday’s Observer that Cannon’s company has been incorrectly filing business taxes for the 20 or so parking lots and decks it manages. A parking management company must pay an annual business privilege license tax on each lot or deck it runs. The tax is 60 cents per $1,000 of revenue, with a minimum tax of $50 per lot.

E-Z Parking, though, did not file taxes for each lot. It did so for only its headquarters and two decks this year, for instance.

E-Z’s chief operating officer, Jeff Feemster, says he’s confident the company has paid all the taxes it was supposed to pay.

Mecklenburg Tax Collector Neal Dixon says he doesn’t know if that’s right. “It would be hard to tell without a full look at the books,” he told Harrison. Dixon told the editorial board Tuesday that that fuller look has begun.

The relevant documents are not available to the public. Cannon and Feemster say they believe the firm has paid the correct amount of taxes on all its revenue. But if they aggregated the revenue from all the lots and paid 60 cents per $1,000, that might be less than if the company had paid the required minimum of $50 per lot. With E-Z founded by Cannon in 1998, the back taxes owed could add up.

Cannon’s competitors appear to be following the law more strictly than the mayor and we wonder whether other firms could have gotten away with not paying for licenses on each of their individual lots.

Harrison reported that Preferred Parking has licenses for 39 separate lots. LAZ Parking has paid taxes the appropriate way for all 10 of the lots and garages it lists on its website. Secure Parking’s website says it manages a dozen lots, and has paid the license tax on each of them. But the mayor’s firm hasn’t?

Cannon has been quiet about the situation. He referred almost all of Harrison’s questions to Feemster, saying only that “as far as we know,” his company has paid all it is supposed to.

As the city’s most visible public official, Cannon owes taxpayers and voters a good bit more than that.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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