Tax issues complex for reopened restaurant straddling county line

Keri Thornton | Daily Press

Emmanuel Lopez, owner of Cantina Bravo Mexican Grille, said he and his staff are following social distancing and seating patrons at every other table in the restaurant.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A restaurant that was allowed to partially reopen due to its location on the city-county line has raised tax questions, and whether the city of Tahlequah or Cherokee County has jurisdiction during the pandemic.

Cantina Bravo Mexican Grille had opened 60 percent of its restaurant May 5. Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault said that since the restaurant is technically located in the county, it didn’t fall under the city’s reopening plan and could therefore could skirt the executive order imposed by the mayor.

Tahlequah code inspector initially went told the restaurant owners they needed to shut it down, since it was operating within the city limits. But Chennault said the restaurant itself is actually straddling the city-county line: 60 percent in the county, and 40 percent within the city limimts. After a compromise, the restaurant was allowed to open at 60 percent capacity until Friday, May 8, when it can fully reopen.

A reader asked the Tahlequah Daily Press to find out how property tax and sales tax are handled, if 60 percent of the business is technically not within the city limits. 

Emmanuel Lopez, owner of Cantina Bravo, said his restaurant is paying both county and city taxes.

“The limit of the city is the first two parking spots, and that’s where we pay the city taxes. The building is in the county,” said Lopez.

The Cherokee County Treasurer’s Office provided the Daily Press with a "taxpayer copy" of Cantino Bravo's records, indicating that while part of the restaurant property crosses the Tahlequah city limits, it ust pay city taxes, but it is also paying taxes applicable to the county.

According to records, the restaurant is paying into "I-35C," which is the Tahlequah Public Schools District. However, it is also paying County General and County Health taxes. A clerk explained it's very much like a property owner whose land crosses two school districts. In such cases, the ad valorem taxes are split proportionately between the districts.

Lopez said it has been a complex issue and continues to be so, but he’s been able to work with the regulations imposed by both the city and county.

“Like right now, the sheriff’s office came in Friday night because we’re closed like the other restaurants, and I never thought about it that we could open,” said Lopez. “They said we can open as long as we follow social distancing, and I know someone’s reported it to the city, but the building is in the county.”

Lopez said he and his staff are following social distancing and seating patrons at every other table in the restaurant. Citizens have given varying reports as to whether proper social distancing, as suggested by the state, is being followed. The restaurant does have an outdoor patio.

Recommended for you