The early returns on personal property listing forms sent out by the Lewis County Assessors’ Office have shown a staggering deviation from what’s typically expected from businesses around the county.
According to Lewis County Assessor Dianne Dorey, between 3,000 and 4,000 personal property listing forms are sent out each year. Usually, by April 30, Dorsey says the assessor’s office has received 150 returns indicating that a person’s Unified Business Identifier, or UBI, has been closed by the Washington state Department of Revenue. In a normal year, the office is only waiting on 400 personal property listing forms to be returned by this time.
A UBI, according to the Department of Revenue, allows the owner to do business in the state.
Currently, Dorey said the office has been notified of about 400 UBIs that have been closed and still has roughly 900 personal property listing forms outstanding.
“The way that we close it, is that we check with the Department of Revenue to see if they’ve closed their UBI,” Dorey said. “If they’ve closed it, then obviously they aren’t doing business and then we close down their personal property account.”
She added that many of the businesses closing their UBI aren’t storefronts, but are from small business owners who have secured the account in an effort to open businesses out of their homes or have even secured the UBI, then decided they would no longer pursue the opening of the business.
Still, Dorsey noted the number of returns received by the Assessor’s office indicating that a UBI is closed is higher than she’s used to.
“People just say ‘business closed, UBI closed’ and that’s all we get,” Dorey said. “They don’t say it’s because of COVID-19, they don’t say it’s because their wife decided that they didn’t want to work at home, you know, but it’s just unusual that we would get a spike like that.”
She was quick to point out the 900 forms that are still outstanding.
“I don’t know what those are going to say,” Dorey said.
The Assessor’s office granted a 30-day grace period beyond the April 30 due date for the personal listing forms to be filed without the normal five percent penalty that would accrue for May.
She cited the deadline as a possible reason for why many forms have yet to be returned.
“Right now, a couple trickle in every day,” Dorey said. “We’ll see, when May 31 rolls around, if everybody got busy and sent them in.”
At this point, Dorey said she’s not concerned about the current number because the businesses that are closing the UBI accounts aren’t major businesses. Still, she’s not sure about the number of businesses that may have not returned the personal property listing form because they weren’t currently open.
“They have to report if they were open January 1,” Dorey said. “If they took out a business license last July, then by January, decided they weren’t going to make it fly when business was good, certainly during this period, that’s going to really affect some businesses.”
Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce Director Alicia Bull believes as more personal property listing forms are returned, the number of businesses who have closed their UBI accounts will increase.
“The number is absolutely going to climb,” Bull said. “We know that many businesses are hanging tough and Lewis County is a hopeful community that will make their best efforts to open their businesses back up. The sad reality is the longer the closure is in place, the more businesses will get further into debt which in turn affects their ability to reopen.”
She referred to the impact of the shutdown of the local economy as a “tidal wave.”
“A small wave has crashed and we had better prepare for a large one to come,” Bull said. “The goal is to get a handle on how to support our local businesses so that we can lessen the effects of the big wave that is coming.”
During Wednesday’s Economic Recovery Forum hosted by various Lewis County officials, County Manager Erik Martin said the situation is “not good.”
“There’s a lot more businesses pulling their personal property listing, which is probably a good indication there’s a lot more businesses that are closing than normal,” Martin said during the meeting.
Bull mentioned her level of concern over the numbers is higher than it’s ever been.
“I’m more concerned today than I’ve ever been before in my time as the Chamber Director,” Bull said. “But, I am still hopeful that our community will work hard, support one another and pull through this. We don’t have a choice, we just really don’t have a choice.”