Four years ago, somebody wrote up a lengthy list of all the equipment that ESPN has at its massive complex on Middle Street.
It accidentally included $3.5 million worth of furniture and fixtures that were still in the box – and not supposed to be on the list of taxable personal property held by the sports giant.
An alert bureaucrat for the state caught the error last spring, notified ESPN and shortly afterward the city received a letter from Walter Riemer, senior manager of ESPN’s tax department.
He said the company had made an error and that as a result it was owed $890,000 by the city for taxes paid on items that shouldn’t have been on the list.
City officials said they reviewed the information and concluded, with a growing sense of panic, that ESPN was correct.
But sending a check to the city’s largest taxpayer for that much money would have created “a gaping hole” in Bristol’s already tight budget, said Comptroller Glenn Klocko.
He said that he and city Assessor Rich Lasky put their heads together to weigh options – Mayor William Stortz apparently played no role – and decided to approach ESPN to find out if it would agree to get its money back in two installments over the next two years instead of all at once.
In financial terms, Klocko said, “They’re Goliath. We’re David.”
Shelling out nearly $1 million would have pushed up property taxes by a third of a mill just to cover the tab, he said.
Fortunately, he said, ESPN agreed to the deal, even though it had every right to insist on the reimbursement immediately.
That gives the city’s Board of Finance the chance to factor the two large payments to ESPN into its budget figures, Klocko said, and to manage the problem instead of simply coping with it.”I want to say in big bold letters: thank you, ESPN,” Klocko said. “They were very nice.”
Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski also said that it would have been tough to deal with an unexpected deficit of $890,000 if ESPN had demanded its money right away.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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