A matter of style|Sherriff, auditor wrangle over who pays for deputy's hats and gloves

NORWALK Huron County Sheriff Dick Sutherland is not keeping his frustration under his hat. The taxabl
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Huron County Sheriff Dick Sutherland is not keeping his frustration under his hat.

The taxable cost of 17 hats and 34 pairs of gloves - $97.80 - was withheld from his paycheck. The sheriff doesn’t think he should have to pay the tax on even one hat or glove, but said he has no idea how he can get his money back.

All those hats and gloves were not for Sutherland - they were for his deputies and detectives. Sutherland said those items are a necessary part of his team’s uniform and he’s obligated under union contract to supply them.

When asked by Huron County auditor Roland Tkach to identify which deputies had been given gloves and hats so their pay could be docked, Sutherland refused to do so.

He said head covering and gloves should not be considered “fringe benefits,” and his men and women should not have to pay a cent for them.

But Tkach said the Internal Revenue Service’s rules on the subject are very clear.

“The IRS says ... clothing or uniforms are excluded from the wages of employees if they are specifically required as a condition of employment and are not worn or adaptable to general usage or ordinary clothing,” he said.

Tkach said the hats and gloves are Carhartt, designer work wear. Tkach argues that makes them able to be worn off duty, forcing him to dock the pay.

But Sutherland disagrees.

“We don’t wear them” off duty, Sutherland said. “I don’t care if they are Fruit of the Loom ... they are protective.”

Tkach said the day will come when the IRS examines the county’s books and, should they find the smallest discrepancies, the county will pay for it through the teeth in fines.

Addressing the Huron County commissioners on Thursday, Sutherland said he understood there was nothing really to be done about the matter, but he wanted to bring it to their attention.

The issue raises an interesting question about what constitutes work clothes that cannot be adapted to casual wear.

All 80 or so members of the Huron County Sheriff’s office are charged the tax on their boots because they can be worn outside of work. The same is true of the clothing janitors wear, Tkach said.

Even more puzzling is that the IRS said a coroner’s gown used during autopsies can also be considered a fringe benefit since it hypothetically can be washed and used in daily life, commissioner Ralph Fegley said.