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Last-minute tax filers face lineup

April 15, 1999

Late filers at Post OfficeBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Steve and Cindy Brown sent their tax returns in last week. But the Hagerstown couple didn't escape standing in line at the Hagerstown post office to beat the filing deadline Thursday night.

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They were doing it for their 17-year-old son, who lost his W-2 form and had to request a copy from his employer, they said.

"I guess we didn't have to rush. He's getting a refund," said Cindy Brown, who said she filled out the short federal and state forms for the teenager once his employer faxed over a copy of his W-2.

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Still, it wasn't so bad, they said. Given the traffic backed up on Franklin Street, from Locust Street to the post office, they said they expected the line inside would be a lot longer than it was.

Closing at their normal times, other Washington County post offices rerouted their late customers to the Hagerstown post office with signs saying it would be open until midnight.

Post office employees taking returns from passing cars kept the line for the inside windows from getting too long, said Customer Service Supervisor Floyd Atherton.

Posted on both sides of Franklin Street from 5 p.m. to midnight, the letter carriers were keeping up a Tax Day custom the post office has had for at least eight years, Atherton said.

It's a service people need and very much appreciate, he said.

For those who couldn't just drop off their returns, the inside windows were also staying open until midnight, Atherton said.

"If we get it in our hand by midnight, it will be postmarked April 15," he said.

Shortly after midnight, the last of the deadline-meeting returns would be en route to Frederick, Md., for processing, Atherton said.

Post offices throughout the Tri-State area were bustling with tax traffic Thursday afternoon, employees said.

The Hancock post office probably had about 100 Tax Day customers, which is a lot for the small operation, said Postmaster Michael Suder.

Most customers wanted their returns hand-canceled, Suder said.

"They stand and watch us as we date them, just to make sure," he said.

The post office couldn't stay open past its normal closing at 5 p.m., because that's when the last mail truck leaves, Suder said.

The Funkstown post office closed at 4:30 p.m. for the same reason, said Postmaster Joe Ferguson, who said he watched a few latecomers come and read the signs directing them to the Hagerstown post office.

Tax traffic was pretty steady all week, Ferguson said.

He said he encouraged customers to come in and have their returns weighed, so they wouldn't chance missing the deadline because of postage due.

Customers at the Waynesboro, Pa., office could hand their tax payment over to Uncle Sam himself - or at least to a clerk dressed as him - on Tax Day, said Judy White,

The post office was staying open until 9 p.m. for late filers, White said.

Customers at the Martinsburg, W.Va., post office in Old Courthouse Square had two weeks' notice that there wouldn't be late-night window service as in recent years, said Martinsburg Postmaster Tom Barbery.

Still, procrastinators had until midnight to get the coveted April 15 postmark by mailing their returns at one of the post office drop sites or in the box in front of Roger's County Market, a contract unit, Barbery said.

Barbery, who took over as postmaster in July 1998, said he decided not to have window service this year because it's costly and not necessary with the post office's "store concept."

People can come in to the post office, weigh their returns, get change and buy postage from machines and then mail them themselves, he said.

Most of the last-minute filers are people who owe money and just waited to file returns they'd already prepared, said IRS spokesman Domenic J. LaPonzina.

At the beginning of the week, about 35 percent of Maryland taxpayers who have to file a federal return still hadn't filed, LaPonzina said.

That's roughly a half million people, he said.

Considering the interest and penalties late filers face, it's no wonder there's a deadline rush, LaPonzina said.

Taxpayers who let the midnight deadline pass without filing a return or a 4868 automatic extension form have to pay the IRS 8 percent a month interest, 1/2 of 1 percent a month failure to pay penalty and 5 percent a month failure to file penalty, he said.

The State of Maryland charges late filers 13 percent on tax due, said Maryland tax department spokesman Michael D. Golden.

Boonsboro resident Donnie Russell is typical of late filers.

He said he had his federal return prepared but waited until Thursday to mail it to hang on to his money as long as possible.

Russell, 30, said he didn't intend to wait until Thursday night, however.

His wife, who needed to sign the form, ended up working late and the Boonsboro post office closed, so he had to drive to Hagerstown, he said.

Paul Nally Jr. said he and his wife, Nancy Nally, normally wait until the last day or so to send off their returns, though they usually are expecting money back.

The Hagerstown couple eats whatever interest they would make on the refund to take the pressure off their long-time tax preparer, said Nally, 49.

"She always gets us out before midnight. That's all we care about," he said.

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