Saturday, March 21, 2009
Antioch Dodge dealership seized by state
Owner says failure to pay $46,000 in taxes is an oversight By G. Chambers Williams III • THE TENNESSEAN • March 21, 2009 Nashville Didge in Antioch has been seized and locked up by the Tennessee Department of Revenue for nonpayment of state taxes, but the owner said Friday that the business could reopen as early as Wednesday after the past-due taxes are paid. Jamie Vegara, a Florida businessman who bought the auto dealership two years ago, said the Revenue Department padlocked the building on Crossings Boulevard on Thursday afternoon because the company had not paid about $46,000 in sales taxes from October. He said the unpaid taxes for October were an oversight, and the dealership had paid its taxes for November and December. In the meantime, he said, the dealership's 30 employees are out of work, and the facility's sales, service and parts departments are closed. The Revenue Department declined to discuss Nashville Dodge's case, citing strict state confidentiality rules. But spokeswoman Sophie Moery said that in most cases of a state seizure for nonpayment of taxes, the business makes arrangements to pay and is allowed to reopen in two or three days. "Our job is to administer tax laws fairly, and we can't allow one business to operate without paying its taxes while others are paying theirs," she said. "We know these are tough times, and if possible, we will work with taxpayers to make arrangements if they have good filing records. "But one thing to remember is that the sales tax is collected by retailers on behalf of the state and is not to be used for other purposes, such as overhead." Even if the taxes are paid and the dealership reopens, Nashville Dodge's future is in doubt because of the steep downturn in auto sales that has affected the entire industry, Vegara said. Franchised dealers of Chrysler LLC, which manufactures the Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep brands, have been particularly hard hit by the sales slump. Chrysler's U.S. sales are off about 50 percent so far this year compared with 2008. "I don't know if we will be able to survive," Vegara said. "I believe this economy will turn around, but I don't know when. I am talking to Chrysler about our options, and I do have a couple of potential buyers." More layoffs possible He said the dealership has cut its staff by nearly half in the past year, and might have to lay off more employees to try to get through the downturn. "I'm going to cross my fingers and see if we can turn this around," he said. "But I just don't have any money I can pull from my pocket right now, and the mortgage on the property there is costing me about $50,000 a month." He said he takes little solace in the fact that many other dealers are in the same boat. "It's really hard to stay in business with sales the way they are," Vegara said. "We have some very good vehicles, but right now people are scared to buy Chrysler products, and it makes it tougher for us to survive. "I don't think it's a good time to be a Chrysler dealer anywhere."
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