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Councilwoman's store operated without license

April 05, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

A family jewelry business now run by Hagerstown City Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein did not have a required business license for at least 27 years, according to the Maryland Comptroller's Office in Annapolis.

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The store in downtown Hagerstown also has paid no sales taxes for at least several months, according to a spokesman in the office who would not be more specific.

Saum-Wicklein, reached by telephone at her home Monday declined to answer questions but did say: "All the licenses are properly displayed. This is a non-issue."

Saum-Wicklein obtained a traders license and a sales tax license last Wednesday, the day after The Herald-Mail began making inquiries with the state on the matter, said comptroller spokesman Michael Golden.

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There was no license before then for the store owned and operated by Saum-Wicklein and her family, according to records going back to 1972, which are the earliest available, Golden said.

Also, before Wednesday the state had not received payments for any sales tax received at the store since it was run by Saum's Credit Jewelers, which legally went out of business last Oct. 2, according to Golden and records with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Saum-Wicklein has operated a jewelry store in the same location since then.

When asked whether the business had the proper licenses prior to last week, Saum-Wicklein said: "I will not talk to you about this today and I doubt I ever will."

She referred all questions to her lawyer Roger Schlossberg, of Hagerstown, who could not be reached Monday.

Golden would not say how much money the jewelry business might owe the state.

He also would not say when the last sales tax payment was made by a business at that location, or whether Saum-Wicklein had paid or made arrangements to pay the state any money since last Wednesday.

Golden said state law prohibited him from discussing specific cases.

Retailers are required by law to collect the 5 percent sales tax and turn it over to the state either monthly or quarterly.

Retailers who do not send in the taxes face a penalty of up to 26 percent above the tax owed, Golden said.

A traders license is renewed annually, and costs between $15 and $800 depending on the value of a store's inventory.

The traders license obtained by Saum-Wicklein on Wednesday cost her $27 for the month of April, based on the store having $36,000 worth of inventory, according to a copy of the license on file in Washington County Circuit Court.

The license would have cost $125 for the full year.

All traders licenses are set to expire at the end of April, and must be renewed for another 12 months.

Retailers who do not get a license face a penalty of up to 30 percent over the license fee, Golden said.

The city receives 92 percent of the revenue from the traders licenses sold in its jurisdiction.

In the current fiscal year ending June 30, Hagerstown will receive $88,500 from the licenses, according to city budget estimates.

Both the traders and sales tax licenses appeared to be on a shelf in the corner of the jewelry store on Monday. A clerk at the store refused to permit an inspection of the licenses.

Golden didn't know how many businesses might be operating without the proper licenses.

"I have no numbers to give you," he said.

"It happens, but I couldn't say how often. We only know when someone tells us," Golden said.

Rick L. Hemphill, Chief Deputy Clerk at Washington County Circuit Court, whose office oversees traders licenses for the county, said the problem is that the state does not visit businesses to enforce the law.

He couldn't estimate how many businesses may be operating without a traders license.

However, Hemphill said when there was a license enforcement officer working in Washington County in 1978, his office issued about 2,900 traders licenses annually.

This year there were about 2,800 traders licenses issued, Hemphill said.

"And you don't think we've grown since then?" he asked.

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