PARKERSBURG - A Wood County commissioner says he's trying to make arrangements to pay the county taxes owed by a former family business that operated a car rental franchise that was taken over by the franchise owner.
Personal property taxes of $16,582 are owed by A.W. Couch Inc., a car rental on St. Marys Avenue that was owned by county Commissioner Blair Couch and taken over by the Hertz Corp. in 2009.
"It's the family name and it's the right thing to do even though the company doesn't do business anymore. I'm trying to make adequate provisions as best I can," Couch said. "Although I don't personally believe this is a debt owed by A.W. Couch Inc., that is how it is listed."
A Republican, Couch is running for re-election and faces Democrat Harry Deitzler in the November general election.
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel two years ago first reported on the delinquent tax bill. The company operated the car rental business until Hertz Corp. took over the Hertz franchises in Parkersburg. A.W. Couch was no longer operating, but Couch said he wanted to take care of the delinquent tax tickets.
Couch said he attempted to contact the appropriate division of Hertz Corp. regarding the delinquent tax tickets, and was told because the Hertz name was not on the tax ticket and A.W. Couch's name was, Hertz did not feel its firm was responsible for payment.
Couch said he met with tax officials of the sheriff's department and was referred to Parkersburg attorney Andrew Woofter, who represents the sheriff's tax office on collection of delinquent taxes.
In a letter addressed to Couch and dated Dec. 16, 2011, Woofter states, "You have advised that you, personally, although under no legal obligation to do so, have volunteered to make efforts to pay the delinquent personal property taxes that are the obligation of A.W. Couch Inc."
Woofter on Wednesday said the letter was sent to the sheriff's tax office for approval and tax officials said not to send it out. Woofter said it was not sent out, it was never sent to Couch and he did not release the letter. He believes it falls under attorney/client privilege and should not have been publicly released.
Woofter goes on in the letter, which has been disseminated publicly by unknown individuals, to say he advised Couch, by state law, the sheriff cannot accept partial payment of any tax bill, so he (Woofter) agreed "with the consent of the sheriff's tax office," to accept payments and place them in a trust account until there are sufficient funds to pay each delinquent tax ticket.
Couch said he consented to the arrangement, then was notified the agreement had been withdrawn and the debt remains.
"I have since made multiple attempts to find out the status of the situation. I've been trying to make adequate provisions for any debt owed by A.W. Couch whether on paper or what. We have attempted over and over again to address this," Couch said. "The purpose of the discussions with the tax office was to make adequate arrangements to address this debt in A.W. Couch's name. We wanted to resolve the issue."
"We were doing everything we could to stay in business in a terrible economic climate," Couch said. "I know there is a debt. I believed it was owed by Hertz Corp., and after I was told it had to be paid by A.W. Couch, I tried to make arrangements to do so. Since the letter from the attorney was withdrawn, I have heard nothing more since that time. I don't know where it stands now," he said.
"There were no favors done for anyone. This was a person who volunteered to pay taxes for which he himself is not liable, as far as we know. We attempted to put a plan in place to try and recover as much of the tax due as possible. The company A.W. Couch is technically liable, as any company whose name is on the tax ticket. Each year the assessment card for personal property is filed. It was not challenged at the time it was filed so it's final, not subject to appeal. It boils down to a collection issue," Woofter said.
Woofter said no sheriff by statute can accept payments on any tax liability, unless there is a bankruptcy then the bankruptcy court can order the sheriff to take payments, as in the case, for example, of a Chapter 11 proceeding, and the state tax department has yielded to the bankruptcy court on this issue. In the case of Fenton Art Glass there was a judgment against the company, and that firm was permitted to make payments on back taxes due.
"At the time, Fenton was still operating, previously personal property was an obligation, but there was no lien. There were interest penalties for failure to pay, but there was no teeth to the statute," Woofter said. "Then the Legislature directed that the sheriffs send a list of delinquent personal property taxes to the state tax department and the state tax department would not renew the business registration for those who were delinquent, and that put some claws in the law. Fenton could not get its business license reissued, so an agreement was reached there," Woofter said.
What happens now?
"Based on our investigation, the taxpayer (A.W. Couch Inc.) does not own any real estate, has no assets, is not operating and it would appear to be throwing good money after bad to file a judgment for taxes owed. The statute of limitations is five years in these types of cases so that is still an option," Woofter said.
The tax ticket is for personal property from 2009-2010. The delinquent taxes due are for rental car fleets that were on the lot at the time assessment was made.