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Parking lot operators targeted over unpaid taxes

April 12, 2011 |  3:06 pm

Private parking lots are holding onto millions of tax dollars that officials say belong to the city of Los Angeles.

Now, city leaders want the lot operators to pay up.

City officials announced plans Tuesday to aggressively pursue some $23 million in unpaid taxes owed by parking lot operators and to close loopholes in the way it grants permits and collects parking taxes.

The city’s 1,700 private parking lots are supposed to send 10% of their revenues to the city each month as Parking Occupancy Tax. But city officials estimate some $23 million has not been collected since 2008.

That’s partly because of loopholes in how the city approves permits for the lots and collects the tax. What makes it more complicated is the lots are mostly cash-only businesses and change ownership often, making their revenues hard to keep track of, officials said.

In a motion heard in committee Tuesday, Councilman Dennis Zine asked the city attorney to overhaul laws and procedures to clamp down on tax scofflaws.

“Parking lot operators are some of the worst offenders in the city, owing over $20 million in unpaid taxes,” Zine said in a news release. “This is unacceptable and I will use every tool available to make the process more efficient and transparent, and vigilantly pursue those who evade their obligation."

Under the proposed changes, companies that owe parking occupancy tax could be denied new permits or renewals. Once a lot repays its taxes, it would have to install automated revenue control equipment, such as a gate and ticket system, before it could be reinstated by the city.

The city has sued more than 30 parking lot operators, nine of which are among the city’s top debtors.

The move comes as the city controller’s office is conducting an audit of how the parking occupancy tax is collected and reported to the city, which is facing an estimated $350 million deficit in the next fiscal year.

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-- Tony Barboza

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