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Friday, August 18, 2017

Tax Law a Hot Topic for Area Attorney

Ken Kotch, a 35-year-old vice president and tax attorney with Mesa consulting firm Tribeca Partners, says his career hasn’t followed the “L.A. Law prototype,” where an attorney litigates cases and waits for the juries’ verdicts.

In fact, the tag line he uses to describe his career is what Founding Father Thomas Paine once said: “A long-standing habit of not thinking a thing done wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being done right.”

“Maybe I’m such a geek, but to me, this is interesting,” Kotch, a Laveen resident, said from his office on a recent Friday afternoon. By “this” he means considering the complexities and nuances of taxes in a way that most of us never have: with curiosity and enthusiasm, as opposed to fear and dread.

He deals with the legal issues that drive the numbers. For example, Kotch begins to explain in layman’s terms, say you go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread, a quarter-pound of ham, and a jar of mustard. You won’t be charged tax on these food items, and you can go home and make your own sandwich. But if you order a sandwich from the grocery store deli, you will be taxed. Same ingredients, same end result, but different tax laws.

Better still, he said, consider a department store such as Macy’s, with locations nationwide. How many clothing hangers does Macy’s purchase in a year? A lot. Is that purchase tax exempt? The answer could depend on whether the company lets customers take the hangers with them as a part of the sale, or whether the hangers are strictly used to promote the sale and remain in the store. It may seem like a minor concern, Kotch said, but even the taxes on the purchase of something trivial could add up to millions of dollars over a four-year audit period.

Kotch thinks about such issues on behalf of mid- to large-size companies and collective communities. Recently, he was involved in a case concerning many of Arizona’s tribal communities, which had been overpaying their sales tax on utility services for 30-years.

Tax law is like a “jumbled up Rubic’s cube,” he said. It’s a puzzle. It’s like peeling back layers of an onion. “A lot of people think of tax law as very boring. But to me, this gets interesting.”

Perhaps one reason Kotch finds tax law appealing is because he is “concerned about fair play,” said longtime friend Jay Ruffner Jr. “He also is probably one of the most even-keeled people I’ve ever met, and he’s a very loyal guy,” Ruffner added.

Now a real estate appraiser for Brennan Appraisals, Ruffner and Kotch met when they were undergraduates at the University of Arizona. The two were fraternity brothers, rugby teammates and roommates, and have remained close friends ever since.

The Kotch family—Ken, his wife, Dawn, and their two sons, Noah and Nathan, moved to “SoMo” about a year ago but have been Valley residents since 1993, when Kotch entered law school at ASU.

Today, one of their favorite local neighborhood spots is Amano restaurant, a place that reminds them of Tuscany. Coyoacan is another favorite—Kotch said it’s just like the traditional Mexican steak houses in Mexico City, where he worked as an intern during law school.

Though they hope to one day return to Italy—Dawn is just beginning to study the language—travel plans are shelved for now. Their boys are the focus. Kotch also thinks about the welfare of other children through his volunteer work as a board member for Arizona’s Children Association.
“Ken cares for kids and doing the right thing,” Ruffner said. The two sit together on the board of the child-assistance organization, whose mission is to protect children and preserve families. They are among the board’s youngest members—“We’re both learning a lot,” Ruffner said.

“We are doing such wonderful things for the community, “ Kotch added. “Having two boys myself it really hit home, recognizing there are a lot of children who need assistance, and maybe even in our neighborhood.”

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