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Pier 4 tops list of tax scofflaws

$8.6 million still owed to city

By John C. Drake and Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / December 1, 2008
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On Thanksgiving Day, diners at Anthony's Pier 4 paid $50 for a holiday meal with all the fixings, from pressed cider and herbed chestnut stuffing to pumpkin pie with crushed peanut brittle.

A little more than 16,000 of those dinners would just about cover the beloved harborside seafood restaurant's more than $822,000 in overdue city taxes.

The restaurant headlines an annual list of the city's largest tax delinquents that includes an exclusive North End marina, Boston Children's Museum, and a classic Mattapan hot dog stand.

Pier Four Inc. owes taxes on two Northern Avenue properties - the restaurant and parking lot. Both amounts far surpass the next highest unpaid amount - $115,246 by MGM Commercial Wharf, owner of Boston Yacht Haven at the end of Commercial Wharf in the North End.

A spokesman for the owners of Pier Four Inc. said the unpaid taxes resulted from a bookkeeping mistake and that the debt will be paid by the end of the week.

"They're changing accountants, and what should have happened didn't happen," said George Regan, a Boston public relations consultant speaking on behalf of the Athanas family, which owns the restaurant. "No one's disputing the amount of taxes."

A city official confirmed that the restaurant had agreed to pay the delinquent tax bill this month.

Boston Children's Museum owes $23,174.57 in back taxes on a Sleeper Street parking lot. A spokeswoman for the museum said the high-profile destination for impressionable schoolchildren is not trying to duck out on its taxes.

"Of course not, we would never do that," said Joanne Baxter.

Baxter said the land was given to the museum as a gift in 2006. "We're working with the city to clarify and rectify what we owe and what should be owed," Baxter said.

Efforts yesterday to reach the owners of Boston Yacht Haven and Simco's - the Mattapan hot dog stand whose owner is listed as owing $22,834.42 in back taxes - were unsuccessful.

The city releases the names of property owners with unsettled bills each year in an effort to shame them into making good on their debts. Quarterly tax payments were due May 1, and tax collectors have aggressively notified late payers since.

"Our first priority is to collect the tax," said Meredith Weenick, the city's associate director of administration and finance. "We don't want to print your name in the city record."

The city charges 14 percent annual interest on overdue bills.

Weenick said that despite the slumping economy and rise in foreclosures, the amount of delinquent property taxes dropped this year by $1 million, putting it at $8.6 million. Of about 155,000 parcels, just over 3,000 remain unpaid, she said.

Delinquent payers may find city tax collectors a bit more persistent with recent projections showing the city facing an $85 million budget deficit this fiscal year.

"Every dollar is going to be important," said Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, the fiscal watchdog group that calculated the ballooning deficit.

Tyler said the city boasts a collection rate exceeding 98 percent and that there will always be some unpaid taxes. But he said that with interest charges and court proceedings, property owners are almost always compelled to pay up.

"Over time, the city generally gets that payment," he said.

City Councilor Stephen J. Murphy said that given that councilors fought to add $2 million to last year's budget for at-risk youth, $8.6 million "is very significant."

"Everyone who's holding back has to realize we're going to come after you with our last breath," said Murphy, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. "If you haven't paid, expect a knock on the door."

John C. Drake can be reached at jdrake@globe.com.

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