After a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Richmond City Auditor Umesh Dalal and Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration said they have resolved a dispute over a planned review of the city’s tax-collection efforts, though both parties left with slightly different takes.
“We have an agreement that the city auditor’s office will conduct the audit,” Dalal said. “I will be getting the data that I was initially asking for.”
However, he said he and Finance Director John Wack still need to formalize a written agreement on the review’s scope.
Stoney’s press secretary, Jim Nolan, said in a statement that an agreement indeed had been reached but that the administration hasn’t yet promised Dalal will get the information he was requesting.
“The yet-to-be agreed upon scope will define what data will be turned over,” Nolan said. “The mayor and (City) Council President (Chris) Hilbert want the departments to come together to find a solution toward our common goal — identifying the best processes for the Revenue Administration Unit to collect the outstanding taxes owed to the city. They hope this meeting is a step toward that important objective.”
The dispute between Dalal and city administrators goes back to the summer but became heated after a meeting last week of the city’s Audit Committee, in which city administrators said they would not provide the information because they weren’t legally required.
Under state law, the auditor has access to taxpayer-specific information only if a review is specifically requested by a locality’s director of finance.
“We’re good with where things are today,” Chief Administrative Officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn said during last week’s meeting.
By the end of the week, a City Council member had begun the process of putting forward a resolution backing the auditor in the dispute.
A majority of council members said they would support the resolution, and one publicly expressed “embarrassment” at the situation.
During a budget hearing Monday, the issue again resurfaced. Council members pushed Wack, the finance director, to explain his opposition to the audit. That prompted Wack to accuse staff members in the auditor’s office of misusing taxpayer data in the past.
He did not elaborate or offer any other comments to support his claim.
Dalal, who had said he didn’t know what Wack was referring to, said Tuesday that he didn’t believe anyone in his office acted improperly.
“I do not believe that my staff used taxpayer information inappropriately. However, I need to sit down with my staff to go over the documentation that they have provided me, and we will decide what we’re going to do with it. But at this time, it doesn’t appear there was any inappropriate action.”
He declined to comment further, saying it was a personnel issue.
As of the city’s January monthly financial report, the city is owed $54.5 million, up from $52.8 million in December but down compared with January 2016, when the city was owed $58.9 million.
Dalal has said he conducted a similar review of the city’s Revenues Administration department in 2012, which he said revealed that “a substantial amount of revenue was not being collected.”
Last year, the department conducted an investigation into six businesses after it received a tip they weren’t paying admissions taxes. Dalal determined they owed a collective $750,000 in back taxes.