Some Users Struggle to Navigate Ohio’s One-Stop Business Tax Portal

The overhaul of the Ohio Business Gateway was first in more than a decade, but some users report struggling with the new interface.

by Mark Williams, The Columbus Dispatch / August 15, 2018
Courtesy business.ohio.gov/wps/portal/

(TNS) — The state's new one-stop, online business-tax filing and tax-paying system continues to receive criticism even as the state says the rollout is going well after some early glitches.

The Department of Administrative Services officially introduced the new version of the Ohio Business Gateway on July 2, the first overhaul to that system in a decade.

The state says that tax preparers and their business clients are filing and paying state taxes at the new gateway just like they've always done.

But some preparers continue to complain that the system is far more difficult to navigate than the former one and that routine tasks can take four or five times longer than they used to.

"It's the worst tax site I've ever seen," said James Coco, an accountant in Medina in northeast Ohio with about 75 clients who use tax sites in multiple states.

"There's a lot of glitches. It's not user-friendly," said Erica Wolf, owner of Business Solutions in Shreve in Wayne County. "A lot of our clients are locked out of their own stuff."

Wolf said tasks that once took five minutes to do now take 20 to 30 minutes. On top of that, staff have to spend more time with clients helping them navigate the new system.

"I have to pay my employees to try to help work around the problems the state has caused (clients)," she said.

The modernization project started in 2015 as a part of Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor's initiative to create a more jobs-friendly regulatory environment. So far, the state has spent about $15 million on a project that has been budgeted at $22 million, according to the Department of Administrative Services, which is in charge of the project.

Among the goals were simplifying the process for businesses to access various state agencies to pay taxes and fees, and to make information more secure.

When complaints streamed in shortly after the new system launched, the state taxation department, the biggest customer of Ohio Business Gateway, and Administrative Services, added staff to their help desks to assist users. Many users struggled to log in for the first time and had trouble navigating the system because of the tougher security measures put in place.

Taxpayers who have struggled to file or pay a tax obligation by a deadline and have opened a case using the Gateway will not be charged a penalty or additional interest.

The state says calls have decreased as users become more familiar with the system.

"We are confident that once users get on the new system they will find it a better user experience than the old Gateway system," spokesman Tom Hoyt said.

So far, the state has processed more than 918,000 transactions from about 220,000 users and collected nearly $2.8 billion, he said.

But Coco detailed a multitude of issues he's having ranging from logging into the system to site navigation to getting access to information for clients.

In one example, he said he filed sales tax on behalf of a client, and all he got was confirmation that the form had been filed, not how much was paid, the date it was paid and the kind of tax that was paid.

"It's a non-working system," he said. "Even when I pay tax, it is not a properly functioning site."

He said it has been so difficult to file and pay unemployment taxes that he said he has been told by state workers he should pay them directly at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services website.

Amy Bryce of Cincinnati, who pays sales tax twice a year on art that she sells, said the new system is cumbersome. It basically forced her to recreate an account she already had.

"It is not the most user-friendly system. When they changed everything, it became more confusing," she said. "I consider myself savvy. It was just a frustrating experience."

The state has struggled with the rollout of other major information-technology systems in the past.

When the state introduced a new system for tracking liquor sales and distribution, it was immediately plagued with problems to the point where it had to be replaced in 2017. A Dispatch investigation in 2017 found that the state awarded $15 million in unbid contracts to favored information-technology consultants.

Greg Saul, director of tax policy for the Ohio Society of CPAs, acknowledged frustration by members over the Ohio Business Gateway, and said the group has been working to help the state make the site better.

"It was a heavy-duty process to get our membership up and running on it," he said.

The site underwent months of testing before it went public, the state's Hoyt said. Testing included state agencies and municipalities that host transactions on Gateway, and individuals who performed tasks as business users.

Wolf, whose firm in Wayne County handles payroll and taxes for about 100 clients, said something needs to change and fast.

"Otherwise, our productivity is shot," she said. "We don't have a choice. We'll have to raise prices for our customers."

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.