‘Human suffering involved,’ says business owner

City Council passes steps to address meals tax concerns and homelessness

Debora Timms | 2/15/2024, 6 p.m.
Among the ordinances unanimously passed by Richmond City Council on Monday was one that would change how the Finance Department ...
Samuel Veney of Philly Vegan Photo by Sandra Sellars

Among the ordinances unanimously passed by Richmond City Council on Monday was one that would change how the Finance Department collects and applies meals tax payments.

A number of business owners were present to detail the harm meals-tax collection policies had caused them and their businesses. Changes made in 2019 to the way payments were allocated with little to no notice given to businesses meant that restaurant owners often were unaware that part or all of their payment was being applied to past due amounts and leaving their current month’s payment short and subject to a 10% penalty. These fees sometimes amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.

“The unspoken side of this is the human suffering involved,” said Matthew Mullett, owner of Richbrau Brewing. He said he wondered how many businesses may have failed and families may have suffered because of the stress caused by, for some, years of trying to rectify this issue.

“I can’t focus on my business. I should be home with my children right now,” Samuel Veney, co-owner of Philly Vegan, said as he urged the council to support the change which would direct tax payments as specified by the taxpayer.

Brad Hemp, former co-owner of Brenner Pass, added that while he is glad changes are finally being made, more needs to be done to address the injuries that have occurred because of the existing policy.

The council’s unanimous vote in support of the change came with statements of apology and a commitment to ensuring the systems and processes put in place from this point will be work to address the problems that have come to light.

“This legislation we have right now is the first step. There’s a lot more left to be done,” Councilman Andreas Addison, 1st District, said. “Guess we’ll roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

One next step will see the city introduce a new system called RVAPay which will allow taxpayers to make online payments and view account balances, although its full implementation may still be months away.

Council also passed ordinances that would allocate $7 million toward a $15 million project that would transform a North Side homeless shelter and create a partnership with the Salvation Army in its Center of Hope — the name chosen for the 1900 Chamberlayne Ave. inclement weather shelter once renovations are complete.

Center of Hope will offer expanded services year-round, including more beds for families, as well as men and women, and a community resource center to make it easier for them to find and access wraparound city services.

Despite one citizen who voiced opposition and questioned what oversight and accountability was being applied to the Salvation Army’s current locations, these ordinances received unanimous support from council.

Council Vice President Ann-Frances Lambert said this is still just the beginning.

“It’s going to take collaboration, communication and community to make this a success,” she concluded. “That way we can be an example for other districts and other shelters.”