By Katheleen Conti
REVERE - Revere city officials have begun foreclosure proceedings on Wonderland Greyhound Park for failure to pay $789,293 in taxes over the last two years.
Wonderland Park, the city's eighth biggest taxpayer and now the city's largest tax delinquent, also owes $16,673.70 in water and sewer bills, said George M. Anzuoni, Revere's director of finance. The figures were calculated through Aug. 1 and include interest and fees.
The track has been delinquent since 2006, city officials said. But city councilors were surprised to learn last week that the track was able to obtain annual liquor and restaurant licenses, as well as a special permit for parking at a track-owned parking lot while delinquent on taxes. That is a violation of a local ordinance.
Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino had no answers when he was questioned by City Council President George V. Colella at a meeting Monday.
"Obviously there was an error here," Ambrosino told the council. "I assure you, once these liquor and parking licenses are up in December, they will not be issued if they're still delinquent."
The city placed a lien on the property in June 2007. Ambrosino told the city's License Commission Tuesday to begin a revocation hearing on Wonderland's licenses and asked the building inspector for details on the special parking permit. Wonderland currently holds a license for an 800-space parking lot.
Track president Richard P. Dalton did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Wonderland, which opened in 1935, features racing five nights a week, according to its website. A proposed ban on dog racing in Massachusetts will go before the voters this fall, threatening the future of the track.
Ambrosino said he has not received any communication from Wonderland officials.
"I'd be very surprised if an entity like that would let the city take over a venue valued at $15 million to $20 million for taxes owed that are under $1 million," Ambrosino said. "That would be a very foolish business decision."
Several city councilors said that the city's failure to uphold its own ordinance barring approval of a license to a business that is delinquent on its taxes creates an appearance of favoritism. That charge led to a heated back-and-forth between Ambrosino and some councilors at the meeting, including Anthony Zambuto.
"Under our ordinances, the stipulation is that you can't get licenses if you're in arrears in your taxes," Zambuto said in an interview.
The track "appears to have slipped through the cracks," he said. "I wasn't trying to indicate that it was the mayor's fault, but there's an appearance of impropriety here. How can one business be allowed to operate when others have been shut down almost immediately?"
The city ordinance on revocation of licenses or permits for nonpayment of taxes states that city departments can request from the tax collector a list of entities or individuals who owe taxes. Anzuoni said his office sent a letter in September 2007 to the License Commission stating that Wonderland Greyhound Park owed taxes. Licenses and permits are up for renewal each December. Wonderland has been behind on its taxes since Aug. 1, 2006, Anzuoni said.
License Commission chairman Michael Pepe said in an interview that he was not aware of Wonderland's tax delinquency.
"If they're in arrears now, once we notify them, then we'll be in revocation proceedings regarding the licenses we've issued them," Pepe said. "I'm not aware of the two years in arrears. I don't recall that that happened. . . . Did they get preferential treatment? That's not the case with the License Commission. They're treated like any other licensee."
Wonderland owners have been late or delinquent on taxes in two other instances, Anzuoni said.
Katheleen Conti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.