Capital News: The saga of one small businessman's $487 refund

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- Jim Frey has been waiting 10 years to get his $487 back from the state of Ohio.

It'll be a few more weeks before he finds out whether officials at the Ohio Department of Taxation are going to make good on the overpayment he made and originally brought to their attention back in 2003.

"I have no assurance that I'm going to get it," he said.

Frey makes monthly tax payments to the state for the Red Cross Drug Store in Archbold in Fulton County, just south of the Turnpike in northwestern Ohio.

In 2003, Frey said the business accidentally sent too much money to the state as part of those payments. So he had his accountant send in an amended return, plus a letter of explanation and a request that the overpayment be returned.

But he couldn't get tax officials to give him the time of day, much less his money back.

"They just denied they had the money, and he have a copy of the canceled check and how it got routed," he said. "You just went around in circles and circles and circles, and it didn't matter what you did."

He added, "We just gave up. ... Short of hiring an attorney, I don't know how you could have gotten your money back."

Last month, Frey read an article in the local paper describing the state's new efforts to find and refund money to businesses that unknowingly overpaid their tax bills.

Under past state procedures, those businesses were not informed of their overpayments and were not given refunds unless they requested them. After three or four years, the proceeds would end up in the state's general fund.

The situation came to light as part of a recent investigation by the state's inspector general. Gov. John Kasich and tax officials announced a year ago that they would make every effort to return tens of millions of dollars in overpayments made by businesses in recent years.

"It just made my blood boil when, not long after taking office, we learned that the tax department was keeping a secret from businesses that they had overpaid their taxes and was then playing games about returning their money," state tax Commissioner Joe Testa said in a released statement. "The governor quickly charged me with putting an end to this and now we have."

That's good news for businesses that unwittingly sent extra money to the state, but it hasn't led to any immediate windfall for Frey.

He falls into the category of a small businessman who knew he made an overpayment but couldn't get the state to give him a refund.

State tax officials are considering his case. Spokesman Gary Gudmundson said in an email, "We will go back farther [than the three- or four-year statutory time limit to return overpayments] if the refund was requested within the statutory timeframe and the refund request was not processed or reviewed."

People like Frey who filed an amended return "would be able to get a refund by filing a request for refund form," Gudmundson said.

Frey said he has sent all of his paperwork to the state. He's waiting now for a final answer.

"They told me I should give them three to four weeks and call back after the first of the year," he said.

Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com.

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