CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - FOX19 reported that a Hamilton restaurant that the City of Cincinnati was considering giving $1 million worth of grant and loans to come to The Banks had unpaid property taxes. The restaurant paid those taxes in full. Now, FOX19 has learned that restaurant has additional tax debts.
Elizabeth Rogers of Mahogany's Grill told FOX19 that she is paying off a $49,223 tax lien to the IRS. She says the bill is from another business she owned. She said she shared all of this information with the City of Cincinnati.
Monday the City Administration's spokesperson confirmed they were aware of the federal debt saying they had done their "due diligence" and yet again stated they feel strongly about going forward with the deal. Meg Olberding reiterated the city feels that in order to change status quo there is some risk and that they are willing to take that risk.
While some council members still have questions about the risks involved, the president of a local chamber argues the Hamilton restaurant's owner has much more at stake in this deal than the city does.
Sean Rugless with the African American Chamber of Greater Cincinnati says while the grant and loan total nearly one million dollars, the grant can only be used for certain projects to improve and develop the building itself at the Banks.
As for the loan, Rugless argues the city has more than assured they will get their money back if business goes south.
"This isn't free money," Rugless said. "This money is very restricted. As a matter of fact, this business owner has more to lose than the city of Cincinnati if things don't go right. She's had to put up her existing business. She's had to tie some other personal financial relationships to this deal to attract the ability for the city's funding."
Rugless says it's taken a year of talks with the city just to get the deal on the table and he is concerned what it would mean if the grant and loan are yanked.
"It shouldn't be this difficult to do business in this city," Rugless argued. "If we are going to be a world class city that attracts talent and businesses and we cant get a $300,000 loan passed without the fan fare of someone's character being taken down then we're no further than we were ten years ago."
Rugless says he can understand citizens' desire to make sure city leaders are being good stewards of their tax dollars. He says he feels strongly, however, that this restaurant has proven itself as a successful business and should be able to move forward with their new Banks location.
The City Administration was responsible for researching the background of the business before sending that information on to city council for a vote on the funding. Before uncovering this Federal Tax Debt, a spokesperson for the city administration said that they were aware of the unpaid property tax in Butler County. That tax debt was paid on Wednesday.
The city spokesperson told FOX19 that they had assessed the risk and it was, "outweighed by being inclusive in the offering The Banks has."
However, members of city council who FOX19 spoke with were not aware of the previously unpaid property taxes and a vote that was supposed to happen Thursday on the funding of the restaurant was postponed.