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Janette Wallech set to retire from local office of comptroller

June 28, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

There is an old saying that tax collectors will take the shirt right off your back. Janette Wallech did just that.

Wallech, the manager of the Maryland Comptroller's Office in Hagerstown for more than 15 years, said she will never forget the day a man walked in with a T-shirt emblazoned with a check for the amount of money he owed the state.

"We were doing a collection in this case and the man wasn't happy," Wallech recalled. But since the T-shirt/check had the check number and official routing number, it was valid.

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"We went to the bank and cashed the shirt," she said.

Wallech estimates that about 2 percent of the people who have dealings with her office are unhappy. The rest, who enjoy the benefits of having their Maryland income tax returns filled out free of charge, represent the vast majority who are happy with the service, she said.

The T-shirt tale is a favorite story for Wallech, who is retiring Wednesday after 30 years with the office, which is now at 1 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown. Until about nine years ago, the office was on the third floor of the adjacent Professional Arts Building.

Wallech, 53, started with the Comptroller's Office in 1974 as a clerk. "I did reception duties basically while I was learning," she said.

After about 10 years, Wallech became a revenue examiner/auditor in the Hagerstown office.

As for free preparation of state tax returns, Wallech said the Hagerstown office used to average about 1,700 returns during the annual tax season, with only two employees handling those duties.

"Now with electronic filing, we are down to about 600 each year," Wallech said.

She said she advises people to keep their tax records for three to five years, whether they file the regular way or electronically. "You'd be surprised how many people just don't file anything," Wallech said.

Now a resident of Martinsburg, W.Va., Wallech and her husband, Scott, are getting ready to build a new house. Once she finally clears out of her office, Wallech plans to invest her energy in the new house.

"After the house is built, I am planning to go back to work," she said.

Wallech is a Hagerstown native, a graduate of North Hagerstown High School and completed a year of college.

After stints doing data processing elsewhere and two tax seasons with H&R Block, Wallech found her way to the Comptroller's Office.

"You deal with a lot of people who are mad, people who got caught in some way," Wallech said. "We say here that we start with a person with a chip on his shoulder and it's our job to chip away at that chip."

After the situation is resolved, people usually say thanks, she said.

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