The Town Council has held off renewing the liquor and victualling licenses for Norman’s Restuarant because property owner Norman Harris owes $32,000 in sewer fees dating from 2010.
But the bill the council is basing its decision on encompasses more than just the restaurant’s sewer use. Because of an arcane real estate practice, there are two properties billed as “155 Main St.,” the restaurant’s address – the building housing the restaurant/bar and the building directly behind it on Church Street.
So the restaurant is being held accountable for a sewer bill that includes two apartments above it and the three apartments in the building on Church Street.
Norman Harris’s daughter, Sharon Hazard, said that’s how the property was sold to her father in 1972. There is only one water meter for both properties; the town bases sewer fees off water use as reported by Kent County Water Authority.
On Thursday, Town Council President Michael Isaacs said Norman’s could make an argument to the council that the restaurant should be responsible for only a portion of the sewer bill in order to satisfy liquor and victualling license renewal standards.
Such an arrangement would not negate the bill.
Norman’s got license renewals in 2011, 2012, and 2013 even though Harris was behind on the sewer fees because the town’s finance department had only been checking that business taxes were up to date.
In 2013, however, then Finance Director Kathy Raposa said all monies owed to the town had to be current in order for the town to receive license renewals. That meant, in addition to business taxes, property taxes and sewer fees were considered. Norman's had been current on business taxes, so renewals had continued until renewal for 2014 came up in December.
Isaacs said the change came after a closer reading of the Town Charter and Municipal Code, which reads (227-38):
- A. No license or permit which the Town Council is empowered to grant will be issued or renewed to any person who is currently in arrears in any tax, lien, or assessment levied by the Town.
- B. No license or permit which the Town Council is empowered to grant will be issued or renewed to any person renting, letting, leasing, or otherwise hiring premises in the Town for the purpose of carrying on the licensed activity from an owner or landlord who is in arrears in any tax, lien, or assessment levied by the Town.
Hazard, who is handling the issue on behalf of her father, has said at previous Town Council meetings that the sewer fees went unpaid because business had taken a hit after the recession in 2008.She is due back before the Town Council Monday night to offer proof that her father owns the property outright and there are no outstanding liens. He has applied for a home equity loan and part of that process would include a title search which would turn up any liens.
According to Hazard, the loan process could take six weeks. Town Councilor Jeff Cianciolo told Hazard at the council meeting Jan. 13 he didn’t want to wait six weeks only to then learn the property has liens and might then be ineligible for a home equity loan, so he asked that she bring some proof to the council meeting on Monday, Jan. 27, at Swift Community Center at 7 p.m.