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Johnson County withholding thousands of income tax returns for unpaid bills

Courtesy: MGN
Courtesy: MGN(KNOE)
Published: Feb. 24, 2017 at 6:23 PM CST
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Dale Lewis lives in Cedar Rapids. He says in late December, he suffered from chest pain while at work in North Liberty. His supervisor called an ambulance and Lewis received treatment. He thought his insurance or employer paid the ambulance bill, which is why it surprised him to get a letter in mid-January from the Johnson County Ambulance Service.

It said they're withholding $197 from his tax refund for his $160 ambulance bill. It also explains Iowa Code allows this. Lewis claims it's the first time anyone from Johnson County notified him he owed money. He asked us to dig into this policy so we did.

TV9-News learned withholding tax refunds is not an uncommon practice in Johnson County. Going back to 2012, the ambulance service has withheld just shy of $385,000 from more than 1,400 taxpayers. In 2016 alone, that comes out to nearly 11,000 dollars.

Taking tax return money is not just limited to Johnson County. The state can also take refunds to pay for certain debts like unpaid child support, student loans, or anything owed to a state or municipal agency.

"You get a service, you pay," said Johnson County Board of Supervisors, supervisor Lisa Green-Douglas.

"If they would have basically called me or said something like that and made some type of payment arrangement somehow or offered some type of service this may not come to this," said Lewis.

TV9 asked Johnson County Ambulance Service for comment and received a statement from their director that says in part, "For a patient to be enrolled into the offset program, they first will be sent to collections. This is after at least four bills/notifications have been sent out."

We asked the director if Lewis was among those who had been notified before. We're still waiting to hear back at this time.

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