Records show coun­cil­man has no busi­ness li­cense

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

Cov­ing­ton Coun­cil­man Keith Dal­ton has ap­par­ently been op­er­at­ing his jan­i­to­rial com­pany with­out a lo­cal busi­ness li­cense for years, ac­cord­ing to a va­ri­ety of pub­licly-avail­able records.

Dal­ton’s busi­ness, Cov­ing­ton Win­dow Clean­ers, has no valid busi­ness li­cense on file with Cov­ing­ton, New­ton County, So­cial Cir­cle, Cony­ers or Rock­dale County, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials from each govern­ment, and it’s un­clear if the busi­ness has ever had a valid li­cense, based on records.

Cov­ing­ton Win­dow Clean­ers has been reg­is­tered with the Ge­or­gia Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice since June 1986 and lists a Cov­ing­ton P.O. Box and Dal­ton’s Flat Rock Trail home as its ad­dresses. No com­mer­cial lo­ca­tion is listed with the state or on his web­site. The phone book lists the Flat Rock Trail as the lo­ca­tion of the busi­ness.

How­ever, Dal­ton does not have a home oc­cu­pa­tion li­cense on file with Cov­ing­ton, nor does he have a stan­dard busi­ness li­cense — known for­mally as an oc­cu­pa­tional tax per­mit. Searches of the plan­ning depart­ment’s data­base do not show any li­cense from pre­vi­ous years ei­ther.

When asked, Dal­ton told The News be­fore the July 1 coun­cil meet­ing, and has also told other of­fi­cials, that he has a busi­ness li­cense with the city of So­cial Cir­cle. How­ever, there is no such li­cense on record with So­cial Cir­cle.

Ac­cord­ing to So­cial Cir­cle City Clerk Su­san Roper, Dal­ton ap­plied for a busi­ness li­cense June 26, af­ter re­ceiv­ing a voice mail mes­sage from The News ask­ing whether he had a li­cense.

So­cial Cir­cle records show Dal­ton at­tempted to ap­ply for a busi­ness li- cense for 2013 and retroac­tively ap­ply for li­censes for 2012 and 2011 as well. On his ap­pli­ca­tion he listed a Cov­ing­ton P.O. Box. So­cial Cir­cle de­nied the ap­pli­ca­tion, send­ing a let­ter to Dal­ton that reads, “As we dis­cussed, your busi­ness does not qual­ify for a busi­ness li­cense in So­cial Cir­cle based on the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided.”

Roper said Dal­ton also tried to use an ad­dress tied to the So­cial Cir­cle City School sys­tem, but Roper said that wouldn’t be al­lowed un­less the school gave per­mis­sion. Dal­ton has a con­tract to clean for the So­cial Cir­cle school sys­tem.

Dal­ton did not re­ply to an email or mul­ti­ple phone mes­sages left on his cell phone and with his busi­ness num­ber.

Ques­tions about realestate busi­ness

There are also ques­tions about Dal­ton’s real-es­tate busi­ness, Hat Creek Properties, through which he pur­chases res­i­den­tial properties. Dal­ton ap­plied for a home oc­cu­pa­tion li­cense for Hat Creek Properties on June 28, 2013. City records do not show a li­cense for any prior year, de­spite the fact the com­pany has been in op­er­a­tion since 2007, ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia Sec­re­tary of State.

Dal­ton co-owns the busi­ness with Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Capt. Craig Tread­well. The two men con­firmed in a Jan­uary 2013 ar­ti­cle that they have bought, flipped and rented out properties for the past few years.

Po­ten­tial penal­ties

Cov­ing­ton Se­nior Plan­ner Scott Gaither was not asked specif­i­cally about Dal­ton’s busi­ness but was asked to comment on the hy­po­thet­i­cal sit­u­a­tion of a busi­ness op­er­at­ing for years with­out a li­cense.

“If a busi­ness is not legally op­er­at­ing (i.e. hasn’t paid its oc­cu­pa­tion tax), then we will pro­vide them no­tice via code en­force­ment and should they still not com­ply, code en­force­ment would is­sue a ci­ta­tion,” Gaither said in a Fri­day email. “Should the busi­ness owner pay the oc­cu­pa­tion tax and sub­ject penalty ($10) the ci­ta­tion would be dropped prior to court ap­pear­ance.

“If pay­ment is not com­pleted by the court date, the mu­nic­i­pal judge could fine the vi­o­la­tor up to $1,000 and/or 30 days in jail.”

Both a home oc­cu­pa­tion li­cense and a reg­u­lar busi­ness li­cense (oc­cu­pa­tional tax per­mit) cost $100.

When asked if a busi­ness could be charged busi­ness li­censes fees retroac­tively, Gaither wrote, “If we can prove with­out a shadow of doubt the num­ber of years they have op­er­ated with­out pay­ment of the tax, we would seek to­tal pay­ment.”

How­ever, mul­ti­ple govern­ment of­fi­cials said, and have said pre­vi­ously, the goal of plan­ning and code en­force­ment is al­ways to get com­pli­ance, not nec­es­sar­ily to pe­nal­ize a per­son or busi­ness. So, it’s un­clear what route the city would take.

Both home oc­cu­pa­tion and busi­ness li­censes are sup­posed to be paid for by Jan. 1 of each year, as­sum­ing they are op­er­at­ing when the year be­gins, and if a pay­ment is not re­ceived by Jan. 31, the busi­ness is sub­ject to penal­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to the city code (54.04.080, B.), “Delin­quent taxes shall carry in­ter­est and penalty as pro­vided in O.C.G.A. Sec­tions 48-2-40 and 48-13-21…”

Also, if a per­son op­er­ates a busi­ness with mul­ti­ple em­ploy­ees, they must pay ad­di­tional fees for each full-time em­ployee. Dal­ton listed five em­ploy­ees on his So­cial Cir­cle ap­pli­ca­tion that was de­nied. So­cial Cir­cle charged $4.50 per em­ployee.

Ac­cord­ing to the city of Cov­ing­ton’s code, a li­cense has been re­quired for busi­nesses since 1995; it is un­clear if any li­cense pay­ments or late fees would be ap­pli­ca­ble for years be­fore 1995.

Gaug­ing the se­ri­ous­ness of not pay­ing busi­ness li­censes fees is a judg­ment call, but the city does spec­ify in its code that, “The oc­cu­pa­tion tax levied un­der this chap­ter is for rev­enue pur­poses only and is not for reg­u­la­tory pur­poses, nor is the pay­ment of the tax made a con- di­tion prece­dent to the prac­tice of any pro­fes­sion or en­gag­ing in any oc­cu­pa­tion.”

A big busi­ness

When Cov­ing­ton Win­dow Clean­ers started in 1986, it was a small op­er­a­tion but has now grown to a ma­jor busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the busi­ness, who re­quested anonymity.

The per­son said the busi­ness has sev­eral ma­jor clean­ing con­tracts around town with both pub­lic agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Cov­ing­ton Branch Li­brary and New­ton County Health Depart­ment, as well as ma­jor pri­vate busi­nesses. The con­tract with So­cial Cir­cle schools is also a sig­nif­i­cant one.

The per­son said the to­tal num­ber of em­ploy­ees is more than 30; how­ever, some of those em­ploy­ees could be self-em­ployed in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors, who would not have to be counted on a busi­ness li­cense ap­pli­ca­tion.

Fi­nally, the per­son said he has never known the busi­ness to op­er­ate out of any lo­ca­tion other than Dal­ton’s Flat Rock Trail home.

Lose con­tracts?

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers ear­lier can­celed its con­tract with a lo­cal land­scap­ing firm be­cause the owner was found not to have a cur­rent, valid li­cense. In that case, the busi­ness owner had been found fre­quently to be late pay­ing his busi­ness li­cense fees and had op­er­ated with­out a li­cense for some years, but had caught up on pay­ments.

The board is pur­su­ing a new pur­chas­ing pol­icy that will re­quire all busi­ness get­ting new con­tracts with the county to show proof of a valid, cur­rent busi­ness li­cense.

How­ever, both the li­brary and health depart­ment have their own boards, which would not be sub­ject to such a re­vised pur­chas­ing pol­icy. It’s un­clear what, if any ac­tion, those boards would take. The So­cial Cir­cle school sys­tem was closed Fri­day and could not be reached for comment.

New­ton County Pur­chas­ing Di­rec­tor Mary Ann Pat­ter­son said the county does not cur­rently have any con­tracts with Cov­ing­ton Win­dow Clean­ers; the com­pany did work for the county years ago, but not re­cently, she said.

Orig­i­nal com­plaints

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Dal­ton’s busi­ness li­cense his­tory stemmed from com­plaints from neigh­bors, who felt it was un­fair for Dal­ton’s em­ploy­ees to be al­lowed to park in his drive­way.

“It’s been a sore point for me and oth­ers in the neigh­bor­hood. He claims it’s just a small busi­ness, but there are cars com­ing and go­ing and he brags he has 30 to 40 em­ploy­ees,” said a neigh­bor, who re­quested to re­main anony­mous.

The neigh­bor said other busi­ness own­ers have to pay for rent for a com­mer­cial build­ing, busi­ness li­censes, com­mer­cial util­ity rates and costs to en­sure the build­ing meets build­ing code re­quire­ments.

Ini­tially, when city plan­ning of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gated the is­sue, they did not find any vi­o­la­tion, be­cause it was as­sumed Dal­ton had a valid busi­ness li­cense in an­other ju­ris­dic­tion.

How­ever, Dal­ton would not be al­lowed to have his em­ploy­ees park nu­mer­ous ve­hi­cles on his prop­erty if he had a home oc­cu­pa­tion li­cense, based on city or­di­nances.

“Only ve­hi­cles used pri­mar­ily as pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles shall be per­mit­ted in con­nec­tion with the con­duct of the home oc­cu­pa­tion,” reads sec­tion M of the city’s home oc­cu­pa­tion code.

Based on the in­for­ma­tion above, in or­der to have a legally op­er­at­ing busi­ness, Dal­ton would ei­ther have to rent a com­mer­cial prop­erty and ac­quire a busi­ness li­cense, or get a home oc­cu­pa­tion li­cense and have his em­ploy­ees park else­where.

Staff photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

Cov­ing­ton Win­dow Clean­ers em­ploy­ees park their cars at City Coun­cil­man Keith Dal­ton’s Flat Rock Trail home and car­pool to job sites. Neigh­bor’s com­plaints about the above is­sue are what led to The News’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the first place.

Dal­ton

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