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Last-minute tax filers rush post office

April 17, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Last-minute tax filers filled post offices in Washington County all day Monday in an effort to beat the midnight deadline to file federal and state tax returns.

The deadline was extended two days because April 15 fell on a Saturday this year.

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"This morning was a zoo and it's been really steady all day," said Cathy Stolins, postal employee at the U.S. Post Office in Hancock.

It was also busier than normal at other post offices from Clear Spring to Smithsburg, postmasters said.

The lobby of the Funkstown Post Office was full at 4 p.m. with filers such as Richard Smith, 62, of Hagerstown.

"I only owed $39 but I just put it off," he said.

As of last week, about 600,000 federal tax returns had yet to be filed in Maryland, said Dom LaPonzina, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman.

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The state on Monday was still expecting about 400,000 returns, said Mike Golden, acting director of communications for the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Typically, people who owe money are the last to file, he said.

About 70 percent of taxpayers in Maryland get federal refunds, and the IRS by Monday had either mailed checks or direct-deposited into checking accounts funds totaling more than $1 million, LaPonzina said.

The average federal refund is $1,650, while the average state refund is $534, he and Golden said.

The U.S. Post Office in Hagerstown stayed open until midnight Monday to handle the last-minute rush.

"Today's been very hectic," said Delivery Supervisor Peter Buonocore.

Filing was made easier by three lobby drop boxes, and the placement of two mail carriers in front of the post office on Franklin Street to collect tax returns from passers-by between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Mail carriers Angie Gordon and Brian Ryder split the streetside duties, collecting returns from late filers. Some whom walked up for service but most drove up to the curb like patrons in fast food drive-thrus.

"Will you hold those until 11:59?" Hagerstown resident William Fridge asked Gordon as he handed her his tax returns. He waited until the last minute to file because he owed money, he said.

"That's what I call curbside service," another filer yelled from behind her steering wheel to Gordon on the sidewalk.

Postal employees were separating tax returns from other first class mail to expedite delivery, Buonocore said.

Many Marylanders avoided the post office entirely by filing their taxes electronically or over the Internet. Electronic filing was up 35 percent this year from last year, and the number of people filing online jumped 134 percent, Golden said.

"It's really taking off," he said.

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