8News Investigates: City of Richmond Partying with Your Tax Dollars – Pt. 2

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RICHMOND (WRIC)—Last month, an
ABC 8 News investigation exposed
that City of Richmond employees used nearly
$30,000 in public funds for their lavish holiday parties. Anchor/Investigative Reporter Kerri O'Brien
did some digging, and it turns out these celebrations are going to cost you, the
taxpayer, even more.

After combing through receipts, O'Brien
noticed several problems with the city's bills. The city's Department of Social
Services, Public Utilities and the mayor's staff were all treated to some
holiday cheer on the taxpayers' dime, including a party in the Omni Richmond Hotel's
James River Room, elegant meals complete with cheese plates and jumbo shrimp,
and a casino night. O'Brien discovered nine out of 12 receipts contained
mistakes, some with the wrong tax rate. At least four receipts show the City of
Richmond paid nothing in state sales tax for the catering services, nor did it
pay its own city meals tax.

Government
watchdog Rick Tatnall says the state is losing out on money it is due—money the
Virginia Department of Taxation says is used for K-12 education and
transportation.

8News
Investigates: City of Richmond Partying with Your Tax Dollars

“This
is in everybody's best interest to get this right,” Tatnall said. “There are
people that work for the city that don't necessarily know the rules, but there
are people above them that do know the rules, and those people approved every
one of these invoices.”

Some
of the vendors told ABC 8 News they assumed the city was tax exempt, but
Groovin Gourmets, which catered a holiday party for Richmond's Minority Business
Association, says its notes show that the city employee who ordered the food
told the company the city is tax exempt.

Richmond
City Council President Charles Samuels says the city needs to hold itself to
the same standards as everyone else.

“We're
talking about the city attempting to waive paying a state tax,” he said.

Samuels
and Tatnall worry that if O'Brien found so many mistakes on just this one set
of receipts, the problem could be more widespread. Samuels blames the errors on
leadership, saying there has been too much turnover and confusion within the
city's Finance Department.

“It's
something without strong leadership at the top we're never going to be able to
fix,” Samuels said.

ABC
8 News pointed out the mistakes to the city's Finance Department, which said it
will work harder to train its employees.

The
mayor's press secretary wrote in an email, “The Finance Department is
reconciling those accounts with respective vendors,” meaning the cost of those
holiday parties just went up.

O'Brien's
calculations show the City of Richmond owes more than $450 in state sales tax
and more than $200 for the city meals tax.

Samuels
was shocked to learn about these holiday parties when ABC 8 News first exposed the
spending earlier this year. Today, he says he's told the mayor and the city's
chief administrative officer that while he believes employees' good work should
be recognized, he cannot approve this kind of excessive spending for
end-of-year celebrations.

“We
have a budget, and the taxpayers are the ones who fund that budget,” Samuels
said. “We need to be good stewards of the taxpayer money, and I am not at all
convinced that an $11,000 party is an appropriate use of taxpayer money for one
department.”

The
$11,000 Samuels is referring to was the tab
the troubled Department of Social Services
spent on its fancy Omni and
casino night party.

Next
month, the City of Richmond is expected to release its budget; O'Brien will keep
an eye on how officials are spending your money.

_____________________________

This investigation all started
with a viewer tip. If you have a story for Anchor/Investigative Reporter Kerri
O'Brien to look into, email her at KerriInvestigates@wric.com, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter (@Kerri8News).

 

Copyright 2014 by Young
Broadcasting of Richmond

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