Chelan County Commissioner candidate Shon Smith finds himself answering questions about his taxes as ballots for the November election reach voters.
Earlier this week it was reported that Smith owed the federal government almost $237,00 in unpaid business and personal taxes, and the IRS has placed liens on his Wok About Grill restaurants in Wenatchee and Leavenworth.
Smith said he’s paid his business payroll tax debt down to about $60,000. He also still owes about $88,000 in personal income taxes.
He said he continues to make payments under a plan worked out with the IRS. He said there was a payment schedule in place when the liens were placed on his property several years ago.
Smith, a Republican, said people have mostly been understanding of his tax issues.
“Especially from small business owners and the orchard industry, people who have had to make payrolls before, (they) understand the struggle and understand the frustration,” Smith said.
He went on to point the finger at his opponent, Bob Bugert, for the story getting out this late in the campaign, saying he “absolutely” believes Bugert’s campaign is behind it.
“How is this reflecting at this stage in the race when this stuff could have been put on the table and sorted through and opinions made as opposed to just right now when the ballots drop. I find that really interesting,” Smith said. “If they choose to operate that way, that’s their call, not mine.”
Bugert said he’s known of Smith’s tax issues for months but he flatly denied he or his campaign had anything to do with the word getting out.
“That is absolutely not the case. … I was aware of this back in May and I had chosen not to make any kind of an issue out of it,” Bugert said. He said his campaign has and will continue to focus on his own qualifications to be county commissioner.
Smith said he did not reveal his tax situation himself because he believed he was acting responsibly in dealing with it as a businessman. Now, he said, the information has gotten out and he’s having to defend himself from unfair accusations in the final days of the campaign.
“I’m being accused of stealing from my employees and stealing from the trust fund and breaking the law but it’s not that way,” Smith said. “It is a choice that we made to make sure the paychecks always clear. We’ve taken this on as an obligation as owners of a small business to say we will shoulder the weight of this additional debt. It’s not perfect. It’s not the way we planned. Business never is.”
Smith said his tax problems should not raise concerns about his ability to be a financial caretaker for the county.
“I think it shows that I can handle a really tough situation and figure out creative ways to survive. … The county is in pretty good shape right now but they’re coming up on a deficit, as well.”
Smith said his restaurants are currently thriving, enabling him to pay off his tax debts.