Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for April, 2011

Insufficiently Jewish prisoner’s claim against Washington state nixed

by Matt Rosenberg April 19th, 2011

SUMMARY: A U.S. appeals court has ruled against a Washington state inmate who alleged his right to religious freedom was violated when a Jewish religious services contractor for the State of Washington denied his request for a Torah, Jewish calendar and rabbi visit on grounds he was not sufficiently Jewish because he had neither been born to a Jewish mother nor formally converted to Judaism. Contract language made clear the contractor was not acting on the state’s behalf, and that the contractor had the right to make such determinations. Additionally, the inmate was in no way prevented by the state or the contractor from pursuing his request through other avenues, according to the appeals court ruling.

Nailed Lakewood merchant: “it was necessary to cheat on the taxes”

by Matt Rosenberg April 15th, 2011

SUMMARY: State documents released today show that a merchant in the Pierce County, Washington city of Lakewood admitted to cheating the state out of at least $92,543 in sales taxes at his cigarettes and beer store. Seeking leniency after being caught, he claimed in writing to officials that “ït was necessary to cheat on the taxes” to keep his business in operation. He later paid $146,768 to the state to cover the back taxes, penalties and interest. Nonetheless, today in Pierce County Superior Court, the state charged Jong S. Cheon with filing a false or fraudulent tax return, which upon conviction would carry a maximum penalty of up to five years imprisonment or a $10,000 fine, or both. According to state documents, Cheon used two cash registers in his store, Smoke and Beer and More, one for credit and debit cards, and one for cash. Taxes on many of the cash sales, especially for cigarettes, were not reported or conveyed to the state, authorities say.

BACKGROUND: Retailers and service providers in Washington state collect sales taxes, and are required to accurately report their sales totals and turn over their sales tax revenues to the state, which then keeps some and distributes the rest to counties, cities and other local taxing bodies, based on established rates.

Public Data Ferret – Courts archive

The Washington state sales tax rate is 6.5 percent and county and local sales taxes typically add another 2 to 2.5 percent. A state Revenue Department compendium lists the total sales tax rate for each city, by county.

KEY LINKS:

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The Washington Department of Revenue audited a convenience store in Lakewood Pierce, County named Smoke and Beer and More, covering 2006 through first quarter 2009, and found two cash registers were used. One was for credit and debit card purchases, for which sales tax were collected on-site and conveyed to the state as required; the other register was for cash purchases, for which sales tax were collected on-site and often not conveyed to the state. Many of those purchases were of cigarettes.
  • The audit found the store owed at least $92,543 to the state for sales taxes it had collected but not delivered, plus penalties and interest which brought the total amount owed to $146,768.
  • The store’s owner, Jong S. Cheon, appealed the assessment. His written appeal included his statement that, “tobacco shops only make a profit of $0.40 per pack of cigarettes sold. Due to the tough economic times, we did what we had to stay open. We needed to pay bills to remain open, and in order to do that, it was necessary to cheat on the taxes. It doesn’t justify what we did, and we recognize our fault, but we would like to request a reassessment of the fine..”
  • Cheon later paid the full amount after learning criminal charges might be filed against him.
  • Today, the Washington State Attorney General Office filed a complaint against Cheon in Pierce County Superior Court for filing a false or fraudulent tax return. The maximum penalty is five years in a corrections facility or a $10,000 fine, or both.
  • In a statement, Washington Department of Revenue Director Suzanne Delbene said, “These taxes are not the property of the business to be used to pay bills or make a profit. These are trust funds the business collects on behalf of state and local government.”

U.S. Report: Seattle Can Model Next Steps Against Trafficking

by Matt Rosenberg April 15th, 2011

SUMMARY: A recently released report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. posits that Seattle and Western Washington partners in the battle against human trafficking would be well-suited to demonstrate new methods of information-sharing and innovative networked surveillance tools to combat the problem, which includes forced prostitution of domestic minors, and forced labor and domestic servitude of foreign nationals in the U.S., often at the behest of organized crime networks. To combat human trafficking, the report details recommendations for a multi-city high-tech West Coast vehicle surveillance network in known street prostitution corridors; a new, secure Web-based human trafficking data portal for law enforcement agencies; better standardization and sharing of information among myriad agencies involved; and better utilization of data from visa applications to identify potential victims of forced labor. It also proposes how to capture for law enforcement the valuable lessons learned by the U.S. intelligence community on the operations and tactics of far-reaching global networks involved in human trafficking, narcotics, weapons and terrorism; and accents the need for more shelter facilities in Seattle and Western Washington specifically for adult women victims of human trafficking.

U.S. Model Estimates Green Car Costs Per Mile

by Andrew Hart April 12th, 2011

SUMMARY: Assuming that new technical and business strategies can be successfully adopted to accelerate transition to electric and hybrid electric vehicles, the potential long-term savings to consumers could be substantial. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy has developed a model for assessing the relative operating costs of a conventional vehicle, a hybrid-electric, a plug-in hybrid electric and an all-electric vehicle. The model yields an estimate of “levelized cost per mile” for a mid-size vehicle in each category, factoring in vehicle and component cost, battery and fuel prices, location, driving behaviors, charging costs, and infrastructure requirements. Predicted miles per gallon or equivalents are 26 to 32 for a conventional vehicle; 35 to 44 for a hybrid electric vehicle; 95 to 135 for an all-electric vehicle; and for the plug-in hybrid electric, 54 to 74 on gas and 263 to 327 when operating on electricity alone. 

Sammamish Mulls Writing Off Developers’ Bad Debt

by Matt Rosenberg April 11th, 2011

SUMMARY: The City Council of Sammamish April 12 will consider a proposed resolution to write off $113,309.55 in bad debts from approximately 30 developers who prior to 2010 didn’t pay service fees owed to the city. For these accounts, reminder letters and collection agency efforts have failed. The resolution would also authorize the city manager to write off future bad debts of up to $10,000 per account after all reasonable efforts to collect have been made.

BACKGROUND: Before 2010, developer fees to the city for public works department review time and for inspections of new projects were billed after construction, with 80 percent paying upon invoice and 20 percent paying late or failing to pay. Starting in 2010, the city began requiring developers to pay up front for all project-related fees. The city has continued trying to collect remaining developer fees owed and has succeeded in some instances but not in others. According to the draft resolution, factors contributing to the bad debts include the economic downturn, foreclosures, and bankruptcies.

KEY LINKS: Uncollectible Accounts Receivable, Staff Memo, City of Sammamish, April 12, 2011

Draft resolution authorizing current and future write-off of bad debt, City of Sammamish, April 12, 2011.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The city had $376,614.18 in unpaid developer fees dating to before 2010. Of that, $214,681.31 has been collected or adjusted, with another $48,623.32 under review, or to be collected under a payment plan.
  • In a memo to the city manager, the city’s finance director recommends that the balance of the pre-2010 unpaid developer fees owed to the city, $113,309.55, be written off as uncollectible. In the memo the finance director states that a significant amount of staff time has been devoted to collections in the past three years and for these delinquent accounts, reminder letters and collections agency efforts have not yielded payments. The debts that would be classified as uncollectible are distributed among approximately 30 accounts that have been unpaid for more than a year.
  • A resolution to be discussed at a study session of the city council April 12, and voted upon as soon as the council’s April 18 meeting, would approve the write-off of the current bad debts, and give the city manager authority to write off future bad debts of up to $10,000 per account after all reasonable attempts have been made to collect.

The city council study session April 12 begins at 6:30 p.m. at Sammamish City Hall, 801 228th Ave. SE. (Directions).

Guide To Government Blogs – U.S., WA, Puget Sound

by Matt Rosenberg April 7th, 2011

The parent non-profit organization of our blog and its Public Data Ferret project is called Public Eye Northwest (PEN). PEN’s mission is foster the growth of digital civic literacy, voluntary government transparency and constructive engagement. As part of this effort, we’ve created government Web information resource guides for King County (local and regional), Snohomish County, Pierce County, the State of Washington and the U.S. government. We’re continually pruning and adding to the these compendiums, and using them to mine high-value news and data from government which is shared with readers here and at the site of our news partner The Seattle Times.

Now we’re adding this new resource page with links to selected blogs from the federal government, the state of Washington, and local and regional governments in Washington state. We’re focusing on government blogs in those jurisdictions that make an extra effort to objectively inform, add value and deepen understanding. We’re less interested in government blogs which primarily accent basic announcements, re-purposed press releases, partisan spin or legislative advocacy. Got any government blog suggestions within King, Pierce, or Snohomish counties, Washington state or the “öther Washington?” Send links to matt (at) publiceyenorthwest (dot) org.

Here’s what we’ve got so far.

U.S. GOVERNMENT BLOGS

Agency For International Development, Impact blog
AIDS.gov, Blog.AIDS.gov
Centers For Disease Control, Safe Health Care
Census Bureau, Random Samplings
Census Bureau, Director’s Blog
Congressional Budget Office, Director’s Blog
Consumer Product Safety Commission, On Safety
Department of Defense, Armed With Science
Department of Energy, Energy Blog
Federal Bureau of Investigation, News Blog
Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Business Center
Food and Drug Administration, FDA Transparency Blog
Millenium Change Corporation, From The CEO
Millennium Change Corporation, Poverty Reduction
National Institute For Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH Science Blog
Postal Service Inspector General, Pushing The Envelope
State Department, DipNote
Veterans Affairs, VAntage Point

STATE OF WASHINGTON

TVW, The Capitol Record
Washington State Attorney General, All Consuming
Washington State Department of Ecology, EcoConnect
Washington Department of Financial Institutions, Money Talks
Washington Department of Labor and Industries, Nailed: A Fraud Prevention And Compliance Blog
Washington State Department of Licensing, DoL Blog
Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Ear To The Ground
Washington State Department of Transportation, WSDOT Blog
Washington Insurance Commissioner, Washington Insurance Blog
Washington Sec. of State, “From Our Corner

KING COUNTY

Solid Waste Division, Tom Watson’s EcoConsumer Blog

Report: U.S. Military Must Fix Vaccine Program

by Matt Rosenberg April 6th, 2011

SUMMARY: A new report by a prominent U.S. military medical official, published in an Air Force policy journal, faults the Department of Defense for failing to sufficiently protect the health of U.S. military forces with vaccines for common naturally occuring infectious diseases. The author asserts, and documents that a growing emphasis on perceived threats of biological warfare has drained DoD resources and attention away from the everyday occurrence of infectious diseases – which can diminish the readiness and effectiveness of U.S. military units. He recommends a better cost-benefit calculus be developed, more resources granted to infectious disease vaccines for the military, and management of the two programs merged to support better, more integrated decision-making.