IRS visits city to solve taxpayers' problems

March 12, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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IRS visits cityIRS visits city to solve taxpayers' problems

After more than four hours of hashing out his tax problems with Internal Revenue Service employees Wednesday afternoon, Hagerstown resident Sidney Bloom walked away with a smile on his face.

"I've had complex tax problems going back to 1994," said Bloom, one of several dozen taxpayers who attended the first IRS Problem Solving Day in Western Maryland.

"There are one or two things that need to be done, but I'm satisfied with the explanation that was given me and what they're attempting to do," Bloom said.


About 55 Internal Revenue Service employees - with a range of specialties and levels of authorization - were at the Ramada Inn in Hagerstown to help taxpayers with long-standing problems settle them once and for all, said Pat Votta, taxpayer advocate for the IRS's Maryland-Delaware district.

It was the fifth Problem Solving Day in the district, said Votta, who expected 45 to 60 taxpayers based on the 31 appointments that had been made and past experience with walk-ins.

The IRS came up with the idea for the monthly events in response to taxpayers' testimony of abuses in the federal agency during Senate finance hearings last fall, she said.

The goal is to resolve the taxpayer's problem by the end of the day or at least get the IRS and the taxpayer on the same track to solving it, Votta said.

They've dealt with all types of situations, from people who haven't filed tax returns in a few years and want to catch up, to people who believe they're owed refunds from the IRS to those trying to negotiate lump-sum settlements for money they owe the IRS, she said.

During the previous four events, IRS employees resolved an average of 60 percent of the cases on site, Votta said.

Even in cases in which the problem isn't fixed that day, taxpayers have said they're happy for the opportunity to deal face-to-face with the various IRS employees they need to talk to, she said.

"I think a lot of taxpayers are really relieved when they leave," Votta said. "Not every taxpayer who walks in here is going to get the answer they want, but our job is that we've clearly explained to them what their situation is and what their options are."

She said her office follows through on all the cases until they're resolved.

Taxpayers had from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday to come in and talk to as many IRS employees as they needed to answer their questions and give them satisfaction.

After dealing with the IRS on a tax problem of their own that lingered six years, Sharpsburg couple Brenda and Gary L. Ward Sr. said they had doubts they'd be able to get their son's problem resolved in a day.

By Wednesday evening, after dealing with a helpful man who told them the problem probably stemmed from a clerical error and could be corrected, the couple said their view of the IRS had changed considerably.

"It looks like it's going to turn out pretty good this time," Gary Ward Sr. said. "That's the first time I ever had it that easy."

Delays in correspondence turned a simple IRS error into a four-year ordeal, said Frederick resident Linda Olpin.

A loss in her and her husband's home business was incorrectly recorded as a profit, which led to the IRS taking money from their bank account, said Olpin, 58.

Armed with copies of all of their tax records and correspondence with the IRS, she said, she was able to resolve everything in under an hour.

"They settled it beautifully," said Olpin, who said she was told they would be getting a check - including interest - within a few weeks.

It was well worth taking the afternoon off work, Bloom said.

"People here were very courteous, very professional, very helpful, and I'm fully satisfied with the result," he said. "It saved me a lot of time and money from the other way."

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