The business operating a gas station along Interstate 20 in this city’s limits withheld tens of thousands in sales tax collected over nearly four years, a Cleburne County administrator said Monday.
Cleburne County commissioners, meanwhile, during a work session the same evening discussed ways to either collect that withheld money, or sanction the business’s owner.
The commission discussed the failure to submit that sales tax with its attorney at a January meeting, but declined to name either the business or its owner. On Monday, county Administrator Steve Swafford named the business as a Chevron-branded gas station south of Exit 205, and its owner as Mohammed Haque.
Swafford told commissioners that an audit revealed the business failed to submit taxes due the city, county and state, and said after the work session that failure dates back to March 2013. Some $34,000 is due the county alone, he said, half of that reserved for the Cleburne County School System.
The commission’s attorney, Doug Ghee, has reportedly approved a plan to give Haque until Feb. 13 to pay up, Swafford said, else his business license be revoked. Should his business continue to operate after that, he would be fined daily.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Swafford said after the work session. “I hope he releases the people’s money.”
The county administrator equated failure to submit taxes to theft, and said he’d never encountered such in 24 years at his post.
“At what point do we put a lock on the door?” Commissioner Jake Durham asked. Swafford said he did not know if the commission had the authority to do that.
Efforts to reach Haque Monday evening were not successful, but business records available online show the man owns at least four companies formed in recent years to operate three gas stations and a restaurant in Calhoun, Cleburne, and Jefferson counties.
Talk on the issue came during a wide-ranging work session, where commissioners heard an update on a fuel spill cleanup project and briefly discussed filling a long-vacant human resource position.
A senior geologist with PPM Consultants told commissioners that cleanup effort — connected to a gasoline leak detected in 2014 at the county’s fueling station — might take another five years.
The county has spent at least $1.2 million on the project in the last year, installing vacuum systems that suck the spilled gas from the ground.
Matt Ebbert, the geologist, said that effort has removed an estimated 7,200 gallons of gasoline from the site, and has prevented the fuel from contaminating ground water. Continuing use of the vacuum systems will cost the county about $7,300 each month, he said.
The county will remain without a full-time manager of human resources at least for another few months, Commissioner Terry Hendrix said after the body’s work session. The post has been vacant since June, with commissioners voting several times to delay or otherwise postpone hiring for the position, despite Swafford’s objections.
“We’re having to start back over to put someone in there” after a rules change in October, Hendrix said.
Durham said the commissioners needed to “revise some policies to make sure we’ve got everything right.”
Staff Writer Zach Tyler: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @ZTyler_Star.