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Local business penalized for tax exemption error

Commission questions legal advice on refund

 

November 14, 2019



The county commissioners have refunded a civil penalty to a business owner who was inaccurately advised by the Crook County Treasurer’s Office that her vehicles were tax exempt. The decision was made despite legal advice from County Attorney Joe Baron that a refund is not within the county’s purview to grant.

In Baron’s opinion, County Treasurer Mary Kuhl does not have the statutory authority to correct her mistake; neither, he said, does the county commission have legal authority to issue a refund.

However, said Commissioner Jeanne Whalen, an outside lawyer was consulted. That lawyer had a “different opinion”: the exemption was improperly administered and the penalty could be refunded.

According to the complaint made to the county commission, the issue began in February, 2015, when a business owner visited the County Treasurer’s Office to register the first truck purchased for her business. At that time, she states, Kuhl asked if she was tax exempt.

“I told her no,” says the business owner in her complaint. She alleges that Kuhl then asked her where her business hauls, to which she replied that most hauling occurs within Wyoming.

“Mary then told me that [we were] tax exempt,” says the complaint.

The business owner filled in her company name, address and DOT number on the form and signed the bottom, she alleges, and Kuhl filled in the rest.

“In 2018, when at the Treasurer’s Office, I was told that the tax-exempt form needed updated,” says the complaint. “I told the employee that Mary filled out the first form for me and that I really didn’t know why I was tax exempt. The employee told me to put my DOT number on it and sign the bottom.”

In July, 2019, the business’s tax exempt file was allegedly no longer in the tax exempt folder and the owner was given a form to fill out. She claims in her complaint that she stated she did not know how to do so as it had been done for her previously.

The employee then allegedly informed the business owner that, because her business is intrastate rather than interstate, it is not tax exempt after all. Shortly after, she received a letter from the Department of Revenue stating that the business may be issuing exemption certificates in error and must pay tax, interest and civil fees within 30 days to the amount of $1000.

The business owner says she paid the fee, but then received a second letter on September 10 stating she would need to pay tax, interest and civil fees on 26 items going back to the first truck in 2015.

A representative of the Excise Tax Division advised the business owner that the Department of Revenue might waive the interest because she did not fully fill out the form herself, which is required. She also allegedly said it would be up to the county to waive the civil fees.

The business owner says she was unable to enlist the help of the Treasurer’s Office to get the older bills of sale she needed to move her case forward; nor, she says, did the office know who to talk to about the civil fees. She says she went to the County Clerk’s Office, where she was able to retrieve the bills of sale and enlist help in finding the information she needed.

In her complaint, the business owner says she was then asked to come to the Treasurer’s Office, where Kuhl told her the paperwork was ready any time she wanted to pay. The business owner told her she was working on removing some items over three years old and trying to get the interest waived.

According to the complaint, when asked if she would waive the civil fees, Kuhl said no.

The business owner also notes that she was stopped in a parking lot by a man asking if she had received Kuhl’s message about the issue. The man claimed to be Kuhl’s husband.

“I was taken aback and horrified because I felt my privacy was breached and wondered how many people, especially the people I work with, he has talked to about this,” she says in her complaint. The man then allegedly “went on and on” about how Kuhl had not done anything wrong and the issue was all the fault of the County Clerk’s Office.

Speaking to the county commissioners last week, the business owner reiterated her concern over privacy.

“I would like a refund for it, but I guess my biggest concern is how it was handled,” she said.

The business owner informed the commission that the Department of Revenue had waived the state fees and advised her that it would be up to the county to waive the civil fees. She asked if that would be possible.

Though Baron outlined his legal opinion that it would not be possible as state statute does not authorize either the commissioners or treasurer to waive the fees, Whalen responded that the outside lawyer retained by the commission felt differently. A motion was passed to issue the refund.

Whalen also pointed out that it appears “there has already been a precedent”. She presented Kuhl with four other transactions in which it appears that civil penalties were removed or reduced by the Treasurer’s Office and asked her to prepare an explanation.

 
 

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