letter to the editor

Opinion: When Humor Hurts Small Businesses

Letters to the Editor

By Cheryl Petersen

     “It’s not funny,” I said over the phone to the customer service agent at the New York Department of Taxation and Finance. The agent snickered after I explained that in the recent past, we received an accusatory letter saying we owe a sales tax bill of $900. Mind you, at that time, my husband and I had just bought a small clothing consignment business in Florida, New York.

   Our startup costs were expected, even planned. We work 10 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can imagine that when I opened the unexpected paper bill for $900, panic was fueled by exhaustion.

   To make the sales tax payment, I went online at the NY Department of Taxation and Finance website, found the Filing and Payments page and considered my three options:

  1. File return
  2. Make a sales tax payment
  3. View and cancel scheduled payments

   After clicking option #2, I navigated an army of other pages, bulleting me with more wordy options. Only to receive, last week, a liability fine from the taxation and finance department, because “make a sales tax payment” only estimates.

    That fact makes so little sense I knew it was unnecessary. So, I worked all day November 19, snarfed half a burrito, and made my way to the Small Business Forum at the Goshen Library, hosted by Senator Jen Metzger and Senator James Skoufis,

   The event was well attended. It started late. We listened to representatives desiring to help small business owners. The representative of New York Small Business Development Center said that 85% of start up small businesses in New York fail.

    Let me type that again, 85% of start-up small businesses in New York fail. Why?

    The representative warned us that small business owners must plan and have lots of money. He encouraged us to source the Center and other services for assistance. Because, “har har,” the beast of the Taxation and Finance Department alone can daunt small businesses.

    The remark wasn’t funny to me. It points to New York government assisting small business failures. It hurt.

    Clear, intelligent, useful websites are possible. They exist. My husband and I were small business owners in Washington state for 28 years. There is no lack of clarity and simplicity to tap into, since we successfully navigate many well-coded, well-worded websites. I ask the government to stop slapping band-aids on problems. Replace the thesis-like, multiple-choice website with a search column that asks me what I want. I type in, “make a sales tax payment,” to open a window with a paperless form, the same form sent in snail mail. I fill it out and make a payment.

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