Portsmouth mayor: Bridge company owes city taxes

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – It’s a short-cut between Chesapeake and Portsmouth, but now officials in one of those cities are crying foul over the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge.

It’s a short-cut of a different kind that has Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright extremely disturbed. Wright made it clear Tuesday that every good relationship has to include respect, and he’s not feeling too much of it from United Bridge Partners, the company that owns the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge.

“We all have to follow the law, even bridge companies,” Wright said. “These businesses just like citizens — we all have to pay taxes, and they knew full well that they had to pay the taxes. We’re very disturbed with this action that was done in Richmond to insert language into the budget bill that pretty much exempts them from paying taxes.”

Wright said United Bridge Partners approached the city of Chesapeake during construction about working out a deal on taxes, making them exempt for the first 15 years. But he said no one ever approached Portsmouth officials until the project was complete and they received a big bill that’s now more than $700,000.

So, the company went through one hearing after another, contesting the taxes and losing each time. Then Wright said United found another way around it — contacting lawmakers in Richmond.

Mayor Wright said when Senator Louise Lucas, Delegate Johnny Joannou, and Delegate Matthew James were contacted, the developments surprised them, too. He’s working to get to the bottom of what happened and get the language removed.

“To have someone step in on their behalf and do something, let’s say in the middle of the night, if you will, in Richmond, it really raises a lot of questions,” Wright said. “We’ve got over $20 billion worth of projects that we’re going to have to do by way of transportation over the next 20 years, and these type of tactics cannot and should not exist.”

Delegate Johny Joannou called WAVY.com on Tuesday. He said he too was surprised by the move in the Senate, amending the budget bill with these changes, after the House sent it to them. He said once the Senate sent it back to them, not realizing the change and pressed for time before a possible government shutdown, no one rejected it. However, Joannou pointed to Section 15.2-3105 of the Virginia Code:

The boundary of every locality bordering on the Chesapeake Bay, including its tidal tributaries (the Elizabeth River, among others), or the Atlantic Ocean shall embrace all wharves, piers, docks and other structures, except bridges and tunnels that have been or may hereafter be erected along the waterfront of such locality, and extending into the Chesapeake Bay, including its tidal tributaries (the Elizabeth River, among others), or the Atlantic Ocean. However, only the wharves, piers, docks, or other structures which lie within the territorial jurisdiction of this Commonwealth shall be embraced within the boundary of such locality.

He said if he’s reading that correctly, there should be no tax and no argument anyway.

Kevin Crum, general manager of the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge, sent WAVY.com the following statement on Tuesday:

We are continuing to advance our dialogue with Portsmouth officials related to the alleged tax liability. While we are not prepared to discuss the details at this time, it is our sincere belief that we can achieve a fair resolution with the city of Portsmouth in this matter, based on the bridge’s original acquisition agreement and terms, as well as Virginia law.

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