Veterans wave red flag over taxes withheld

Iraq veteran and Winnebago County Corrections Officer Matthew Ashman brought his concerns before the County Board July 12. Ashman has received media attention recently for what he calls “harassment issues within the Sheriff’s Department” after speaking up about payroll taxes that had incorrectly been withheld.

Ashman referenced two post-9/11 laws enacted in Illinois regarding military stipend pay.

“Pursuant to those laws, stipends are to be paid by state employers to their employees,” Ashman noted. “To date, the Sheriff’s Department has not abided by those state laws.”

Ashman also alleged the Sheriff’s Department is in violation of federal law.

“Some stipends have been paid under the federal USERRA [Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act] law, but out of those stipends, FICA [Federal Insurance Contributions Act] taxes were withheld,” Ashman reported.

Ashman indicated he’d brought the matter to the attention of the Finance Department, but that “they were very slow or negligent in helping us to get these issues resolved.”

Ashman said he and five other corrections officers, all of whom served in the military, have received only partial refunds of the FICA taxes withheld while serving our country.

The six officers have filed complaints with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Department of Labor against Sheriff Richard Meyers (D). The veterans allege they’ve been ostracized by Meyers after demanding reimbursement for the withholding of taxes that should have been waived while they served on active duty.

The six corrections officers are also threatening lawsuits.

Human Resources Director Jim Kelly informed board members the problem had been corrected and reimbursements have been made.

Rick Pollack (R-13), a veteran, responded to Ashman’s plea.

“Whether right or wrong on an issue, we support veterans in this County Board, and we support him in his freedom to speech and to bring this issue to us,” Pollack said.

Randy Olson (R-1) explained the matter had been discussed at that evening’s Executive Committee meeting.

“The Sheriff addressed our committee, as well as Jim Kelly’s office,” Olson indicated. “It was determined that the county is doing the best they can to be in compliance.”

During the committee meeting, Meyers brought a number of awards, including the Patriotic Employer Award, showing the Sheriff’s Department has been recognized by the military for its leadership in veteran employment.

Olson was convinced the county is doing everything in its power to correct any errors that have been made in withholding taxes.

“We did look at it, and we do appreciate the employees’ concerns,” Olson said. “The ones that were not taxed properly—they have been reimbursed.”

Olson said if any employees still have not received their reimbursements, they should inform the heads of their departments for immediate attention.

from the July 18-24, 2007, issue

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