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Stavros to appeal $5.7 million tax lien filed by IRS

AMHERST — Leaders of the Stavros Center for Independent Living say they plan to appeal a $5.7 million federal tax lien filed this week against the non-profit agency and will meet Friday with its payroll company and board members to address the situation.

The Internal Revenue Service filed the tax lien against the organization on Monday, almost all of which is for unemployment taxes, according to the document filed in the Hampshire District Registry of Deeds. Leaders of Stavros say the lien caught them by surprise and claim they owe no back taxes to the federal government. “Not a single question in my mind at all,” said Seren Derin, chief financial officer of Stavros.

Peggy Riley, an IRS spokeswoman for the New England region, declined to comment this week on the matter, citing privacy and disclosure laws. She stated that the Notice of Federal Tax Lien filed at the Registry of Deeds is the only public information the agency could release.

The lien serves to publicly notify Stavros’ creditors that the IRS has a claim against all its property, including any it may acquire after the lien is filed.

Derin reiterated on Wednesday that Stavros believes there are processing errors in the way the IRS has reconciled its tax liabilities, in part because Stavros files its tax documents with the state and federal governments for workers in different ways.

The taxes the IRS claims Stavros owes are for the years 2010 and 2011 and they are associated with the approximately 7,000 personal care attendants that work through Stavros’ Fiscal Intermediary Services program. The program allows disabled and elder individuals to receive assistance in their homes “through prompt and accurate payment of home care workers,” according to the organization’s website.

Stavros has headquarters at 210 Old Farm Road in Amherst and provides its fiscal intermediary services at five independent living centers around the state, serving some 14,000 people. The agency works with PayChoice, a third-party company, to process its payroll for the personal care attendants.

In interviews Monday, Derin and James Kruidenier, executive director of Stavros, said they were not aware that the IRS had planned to file a tax lien against the organization. As part of its tax collection process, the IRS sends written notices to taxpayers informing them of amounts owed in advance of filing tax liens, according to the agency’s explanation of how it works.

“We don’t just normally file a lien without a series of notices,” Riley, the IRS spokeswoman explained of the process. “Normally, we would send a series of notices before any action is taken.”

Asked whether Stavros had received such correspondence from the IRS, Derin said she learned this week that Stavros had been receiving notices from the IRS about the taxes in question in advance of Monday’s tax lien, but that those notices had been sent by an employee to PayChoice. She said that under a contract Stavros has with PayChoice, the payroll company is responsible for the “timely and correct payment of taxes,” as she put it. “I didn’t see these notices,” Derin, the company’s CFO said. “We did not really know how they (PayChoice) were handling it.”

“I didn’t see them on my desk and neither did Jim (Kruidenier),” she added.

The Gazette attempted to reach a PayChoice representative late Wednesday afternoon, but was unsuccessful.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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