The mouthwatering scent of Bully Burgers and fresh-cut fries has not wafted through the streets of downtown Dawsonville since May 9.
That was the day that agents from the Georgia Department of Revenue entered the Dawsonville Pool Room at lunchtime and seized the business because its owner owes the state more than $83,000 in back taxes, plus penalty fees and possible additional charges.
We were negotiating with them (the DOR), Gordon Pirkle, owner of the restaurant since 1966, said. I thought things were going well.
According to Pirkles accountant, Anna Williams, CPA, the assessment currently stands at $141,000. Since the May 9 seizure, the DOR has added on extra fees due to an assessment of withholding taxes for employees dating back to 1992.
I dont know of any withholding taxes that are due, but I havent represented him back that far, so I cant say that definitively, Williams said. After a May 14 meeting with a representative of the DOR, Williams said that they believe there was a system error in the withholding returns from the time the DOR converted to a new system last year. I have placed a call to the regional manager of the DOR to let them know, she said.
Williams, who has been Pirkles accountant for about a year, said Pirkle has been on a payment plan with the DOR for the sales tax, and has been negotiating with the state for several months. Like all other businesses, when the financial crisis hit, cash flow got hit badly and thats true with the entire restaurant industry, Williams said. He was trying to pay payroll rather than pay his taxes, and unfortunately the DOR doesnt approve of that.
I dont think anything happened to him that was any different than a whole lot of other businesses around, she said.
Pirkle confirmed Williams explanation, saying he was unaware of any complaints from the state during that time.
We had intentions to pick it up later, he said. It just built up over that four-year span. And now they slapped all of those big penalties (on top of the fees).
Both Pirkle and Williams said that the confusion may come from the fact that a new agent from the DOR was recently assigned to the Pool Rooms account. We did not know they had changed agents, and weve been dealing with another one, Williams said. I dont really know if she will change the negotiations or whats going to happen.
What he owes is $36,000 worth of sales taxwe know that, Williams said. It includes penalties and interest. The rest of it is an assumed number that (the DOR) assessed last week.
Gordon had not heard anything about this until (May 10), she said.
Pirkle said that around the 2008-2009 time frame, the DOR seized his bank account for taxes owed. The Pool Room had to operate on a cash basis during that time. Following a negotiation, the bank account was restored to the owner after about a month, Pirkle said. It was hard to operate then, but we made it.
Warren Pennington was Pirkles accountant at that time and was responsible for preparing some of the sales tax returns for the Pool Room. Warren was not handling (Pirkles) cash money, Williams said. He never had anything to do with it other than preparing the returns.
Pennington is in prison after being found guilty in September 2010 on fives counts of theft by conversion and on six counts of theft by taking. None of the charges against Pennington at the time involved his work with Pirkle and the Pool Room.
Jud Seymour, spokesperson for the DOR, said that negotiations would be the next step in the process. They would just enter negotiations with the department, he said. Once negotiations are entered, it would be between them and the department as to what is worked out, and what the agreements are.
Seymour said that it is entirely dependent on what deal is worked out as to when the Pool Room may re-open. Fans of the restaurant are left at a loss as to where they should go for lunch.
Im shocked because its been open as long as I can remember, said TJ Stewart, 29, of Dawsonville. Its not Dawsonville without the Pool Room. Ive been going there since I was young, at least 14 years.
Hugh Fields of Dawson County is a longtime patron of the Pool Room. Hes got good hamburgers and steaks, Fields said. I ate the Bully Burger when Bully was making them.
Fields, who used to be probate judge in Dawson County, and his wife, Grace, would eat at the Pool Room often while they were both working in Dawsonville. My wife and I probably had lunch there every day ... at least, I did, he laughed. I would get a plate and carry it to her because she had a clothing store. ... Id take a plate to her because she wouldnt be able to leave for lunch.
Fields not only admires the foodhe admires Pirkle himself. Gordon has been a help to this community in so many different ways, he said. Wed just like to see the Pool Room open, and see Gordon get through this. Hes such a fine fellow.
Save the Pool Room accounts have been set up at both First Citizens Bank and United Community Bank for people in the community to donate. There is also a Save the Dawsonville Pool Room Facebook group, which currently has more than 450 members.
I cant believe the outpouring of the people, Pirkle said. Its humbling to have all of these people helping.
All I ask the state is to give me a chance to get my doors open and pay my taxes, he said. If they just would assess my taxes fairly and quit piling penalties on top of penalties, we could sit down and get this thing settled.