Three members of the Mammoth Town Council hit a nerve when they waived fines and penalties for a couple who rented their Mammoth home illegally and failed to pay bed tax. Members of the lodging association voiced their deep unhappiness at Wednesday night’s Council meeting.
Lodging people thanked Councilmen Matthew Lehman and Michael Raimondo for voting against the motion to waive $7,000 in fines and penalties in the Transient Occupancy Tax appeal before them in February. Teri Stehlik said the Council’s vote put two and a half years of work on TOT enforcement “in reverse.” Cheryl Witherill pointed to the extraordinary efforts of the Lodging Association members to research TOT and to help the Town create enforcement strategies. She said, “We thought the Town Council was behind these efforts. Last week was a big disappointment.”
Tom Smith said of the Council waiver of fines, “To say we are disappointed and amazed is an understatement. It’s just baffling.” Chair of the Lodging Association, John Morris, said, “Many feel disillusioned and disenfranchised.” He pointed to the fact that bed tax pays for two-thirds of the Town’s operating funds.
The Council had voted that Kevin and Carolynn Cozen should pay $15,000 in TOT, but not $7,000 in fines. That was Rick Wood’s proposal. He spoke up Wednesday for the majority who excused the fines. He said the Council had clearly struck a nerve. Said Wood, “The extraordinary vitriol outnumbered all vile and vitriolic e-mails sent to me in the last 12 to 15 years.” Hit hard by the hate mail, Wood thanked those in public comment for being civil.
He pointed out that the Council acts as a judge and jury and not as a prosecutor on TOT appeals. He said the Council was bound by the evidence presented. Wood said, “The problem here was that we were effectively inexperienced in the process. There was no rebuttal evidence presented.” Wood said he didn’t like it that the couple was renting illegally, collecting TOT and not paying it. Wood said he had proposed a compromise – something between payment of taxes and fines and paying nothing. Said Wood, “We got the tax money.”
Wood also pointed out that he does not represent TOT violators as some had accused him. Said Wood, “I don’t have a secret motive.” He also said he doesn’t think the Council’s decision sets a precedent. He said they would consider appeals on a case by case basis. In the case of the Cozens, Wood said the Council “collected the tax and put an illegal renter out of business and learned about appeal hearings.”
Later in the meeting, the Council did not forgive Austria Hof’s penalty for paying TOT two days late. Joe Mueller explained the circumstances that he tried to pay taxes on December 31st, but the Town Offices and Post Office were closed. The Council stuck to the order that he should pay a $157 penalty.