Sunday, 26 May 2024

State tax levy drains senior center bank accounts

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED REGARDING THE REASONS FOR THE LEVY; TAXES WERE NOT INVOLVED, ACCORDING TO STATE OFFICIALS.


LUCERNE – After gaining ground in recent months, the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center is once again facing a challenge following the state's seizure of thousands of dollars from the center's bank accounts because of past unpaid state taxes.


Center Executive Director Lee Tyree said the center's accounts were essentially drained last week by a levy from the State Franchise Tax Board's Industrial Health and Safety Collections department.


The State Franchise Tax Board has told the center it owes more than $10,000, said Tyree.


On July 31, without warning, the state took $7,000 out of the center's accounts, said Tyree.


“It wiped us out,” she said. “We couldn't even make payroll.”


A State Franchise Tax Board spokesman told Lake County News on Monday he was looking into the matter to see if the agency could offer a comment on the action this week.


The State Franchise Tax Board is responsible for California's two major tax programs – personal income tax and corporation tax, according to the agency's Web site. It's also responsible for collecting back wages for the state's labor board.


Last August, the center reached a tax settlement of just over $33,000 with the Internal Revenue Service for unpaid federal taxes, an amount the center was able to pay after selling its thrift shop building to the county for $150,000.


Center officials at the time said those taxes had not been paid by Rowland Mosser, 63, who served as the center's executive director from July 2002 to August 2005, as Lake County News has reported.


In April Mosser was arrested for felony embezzlement, grand theft by an employee, grand theft and keeping a false record of government funds in connection with funds that allegedly went missing from the center. Former center board president Jim Swatts said previously he believes as much as $200,000 was unaccounted for in the center's finances.


Mosser's wife, Jayne, 60, also was arrested in April on a felony grand theft charge.


A week before the state levy hit, Tyree said the IRS also levied the center's accounts for $1,800 and required the center show proof that it had paid income tax for 2004 before returning the funds.


Those were taxes that had been settled last year, said Tyree. “And we had to prove it to them again.”


In this latest issue there are labor board claims involved. Tyree said two past employees, hired by Mosser, reported to the board that they were owed for past wages.


Mosser, who has an upcoming court date in his embezzlement case, also has a claim against the center for $5,400 in vacation pay amassed between 2002 and 2005 for which he has claimed he has not been paid, according to Tyree.


“That hasn't gone through yet,” she said.


Brad Onorato, district representative for Congressman Mike Thompson, said Thompson's office and the office of state Assembly member Patty Berg are trying to work with the Franchise Tax Board to see if they can put a hold on the board's actions against the center.


“We're not quite certain if we're going to be successful,” said Onorato. “It's going to take a couple of days until we really know.”


District 3 Supervisor Denise Rushing said the county also is monitoring the situation.


Besides buying the thrift shop last year to help the center pay its bills, the county also has been trying to secure the building from further deterioration, said Rushing. That includes setting aside $30,000 earlier this year to help replace the building's leaking roof.


Rushing said the county will look at further action to help the center but needs to make sure it's on a “solid financial footing” before they do much more.


Struggling to keep the center going


Tyree said the state's levy drained all the center's money to support its Meals on Wheels program.


The center serves Meals on Wheels to seniors from Blue Lakes to Paradise Cove, and from Elk Mountain over toward the area of the Passion Play grounds off of Highway 29, Tyree said.


“We're back to square one again,” said Tyree, who called the situation “very, very sad.”


She said it costs at least $1,000 a week to cover expenses for Meals on Wheels and congregate meals served at the center during the week, she said.


Tyree said many people have stepped up to the plate, including volunteers and community members who are making donations out of their own pockets to keep the center going. The center was current on its bills for the levy took place, Tyree noted.


The center has received help on another front, said Tyree.


She said the building's cooling system had broken down and seniors weren't coming for meals because the building was too hot.


Former Supervisor Louise Talley called Piedmont Lumber and spoke to manager Ted Mandrones, who sent out a two-man crew within three hours to install a commercial-grade swamp cooler. Tyree said she was very grateful to the company for its help.


Tyree said the center is seeking contributions and more help in order to keep the doors open. “At the moment we need all the donations we can get,” she said.


For information on how to help call the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center at 274-8779.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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