Berkeley County Sheriff seizes U.S. 11 business

April 25, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith employed a largely unused state seizure law Wednesday to seize the contents of a business that he alleges has a delinquent tax bill totaling $2,278.

Assisted by his chief tax deputy and other officers, Smith stapled a yellow seizure sign to the side of the building along U.S. 11 south of Pikeside.

The building is owned by the Wheatland Corp. of Frederick, Md..

The building was mostly recently used as an exotic dance club called Pandora's Box.

Smith said Douglas D. Browning, who owns the Wheatland Corp., has been given the opportunity to pay personal property taxes on equipment inside the bar, but he has not responded.


Some delinquent personal property taxes were paid for 1997, but Wheatland Corp. still owes $2,278 in taxes for 1998, 1999 and 2000, according to county tax records.

Smith said he decided to seize the equipment inside the bar after the county's attorney and Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely helped him research a state law that allows him to make such a seizure.

"It's unfair to the people who pay taxes to let the people who don't pay taxes get by," Smith said outside the business Wednesday afternoon.

Two seizure signs were posted on the building and one was taped to a sign out front along U.S. 11.

The sign reads: "Seized by the order of the sheriff for failure to pay taxes per W.V. Code 11A-2-3, by order of destraints the chattels and goods located within and attached to this structure."

Browning, who was later reached by telephone, said he was surprised by Smith's actions.

Browning said tenants who rented out the building for businesses were supposed to pay the personal property taxes.

If the businesses did pay the taxes, Browning wonders why he is being billed for them also.

"I wish he had given me a call before he did that," Browning said.

Smith said there are about five other business owners in the county who have not paid personal property taxes. The sheriff said he is trying to work with those business owners to get the taxes paid.

Smith said he has been able to collect more than $400,000 in delinquent personal property taxes by putting pressure on business owners.

Chief Tax Deputy Barb Burkhart said she has never before witnessed the seizure law being used.

The only other way the sheriff can collect delinquent personal property taxes is by taking action through magistrate court, which can be time consuming, Burkhart said.

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