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Shenandoah County won't forgive business' late tax bill

By Alex Bridges

An Edinburg business must pay a late fee on its tax bill despite a Shenandoah County supervisor's efforts to forgive the penalty.

The Board of Supervisors this week heard a plea from representatives of Wholesome Foods who claimed they sent a property tax payment to the wrong address. The delay made the payment late and the county assessed the company a $300 fine.

Supervisor David Ferguson at the beginning of the meeting made a motion to add to the agenda a resolution to extend the real estate tax deadline for one payer. However, supervisors voted against Ferguson's request. Ferguson did not indicate at that time it concerned Wholesome Foods.

Wes Pence, vice president of Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Energy, spoke to the board during the public comment section of the regular meeting. Pence talked first about the food-distribution business, operating in the area for more than 40 years. But he noted that increased costs have caused the food-distribution part of the business to shrink.

In an attempt to adapt, the business started its spin-off, Wholesome Energy, which includes a bio-diesel plant, waste oil recycling and an emulsified fuels program, Pence said.

Pence said he was disappointed that the board would not entertain Ferguson's motion or even consider discussing Wholesome Foods' request.

The company received the notice of the assessed penalty after it learned that its payment arrived late because it went to the wrong place, Pence told the board. He said the company's software used the county treasurer's post office box, unaware it no longer existed as a mail-in site.

"I had no idea that the address changed and obviously it's my responsibility to know that, but you know that's not what I've been doing, that's not what we've been doing as a company," Pence said. "We've been working hard to try to make a better life for our family, for our employees and work to where they can get a fair raise, which they haven't had in the last few years.

"I was just asking for some consideration," Pence added.

Pence told the board the business pays approximately $20,000 in property taxes.

Dean Pence, owner of Wholesome Foods, echoed his son's concern and told the board that the county should grant the business an extension because the federal government gives more time to make tax payments.

During board member comments, Ferguson said that out of respect for the other supervisors he would not bring up the resolution he had asked to be put on the agenda.

Ferguson noted that the county discontinued the use of a post office box as a collection point for tax bills in February 2012. The physical address for the treasurer's office remains at 600 N. Main St., Woodstock, Ferguson said.

As Ferguson explained, the bill sent to the business for the first half of 2012 did not give any indication that the address had changed. A taxpayer using software or online banking would not have known about the change of address.

"That's just a business courtesy," Ferguson said. "Again, there may be no law that says you have to do that but that's just a big business courtesy that you do to your customers to let them know that your address has changed, especially if they are using today's technology."

The county issued a second bill to the customer and yet did not notify the customer that the address had changed, Ferguson said. A third bill issued also did not note the new address.

Ferguson noted that the county treasurer may not have been allowed to grant an extension. However, Ferguson said that supervisors have the authority to pass a resolution to extend the deadline to submit payment by 60 days. The supervisor said this would apply only to payers who have a postmarked envelope that proved they had mailed the payment by the due date.

"I think it is not good for us as a board not to have addressed it," Ferguson said. "I think it is not good for us as a board not to recognize those people who are out here struggling in these businesses to provide good, economic income for so many people in Shenandoah County not to take this into consideration."

Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli commented on the business, its efforts to expand and noted her appreciation for Wholesome Foods.

"I certainly understand where you're coming from but at the same time I don't want to punish all of the tens or twenty-thousands of us that did pay our tax bill on time," Baroncelli said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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