The NYCB Theatre at Westbury, one of Long Island's largest venues for live music and comedy, owes Nassau almost $550,000 in unpaid ticket taxes over nearly three years, County Comptroller George Maragos announced Monday.
Maragos' office released an audit that found the theater failed to pay a $1.50-per-seat surcharge that applies to all local venues with permanent seating capacity of more than 2,500. The audit covers 183 events between Jan. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2014, for which a total of 214,241 tickets were sold.
Maragos said that with penalties and interest, the theater owes $548,198. He urged Nassau to take "all necessary steps" to collect the money, and suggested that officials consider seeking ticket taxes from earlier than the audit period.
The theater, which seats up to 2,900 people, booked performers including Ringo Starr, Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Short and Chelsea Handler between 2012 and 2014.
"This is another example of large organizations that feel there are no consequences to not paying their taxes," Maragos said of the theater-in-the-round-style venue, operated by the booking giant Live Nation.
Nassau's "entertainment surcharge tax" for large venues applies regardless of whether individual events generate 2,500 ticket sales, Maragos said.
The NYCB Theatre at Westbury often blocked off seats to some events, reducing capacity to between 1,600 and 1,800. It argued that tickets from those shows should be exempt from the surcharge, the audit stated.
Joseph T. Gulant, a venue attorney, said in a letter attached to the audit that a county treasurer's office employee he did not name had advised a theater executive in 2000 that the venue didn't have to remove seats physically to avoid the 2,500 capacity surcharge.
"This assessment raises legitimate concerns as to whether this surcharge is being imposed in a fundamentally fair manner," Gulant wrote, noting that the theater is put at a "competitive disadvantage" with venues that have fewer seats and therefore never have to pay the tax.
Maragos' office said the venue's response "was not adequate," in part because auditors could not identify the treasurer's employee Gulant cited.
In response to the comptroller's request that Nassau seek full payment by the venue, county attorney Carnell Foskey said in a statement Monday that the theater "has indicated that they wish to settle this matter."
Asked whether the county can do a better job of collecting ticket taxes, as Maragos suggested, Deputy County Executive Eric Naughton said: "We rely on . . . the comptroller's office to conduct its audits to ensure that the county is receiving every dollar it is owed."