Crunch For Accountants

April 15, 1994|By David Conn | David Conn,Sun Staff Writer

The only reason Vicki Lanahan went home from work Wednesday night was because the parking garage closed at 1 a.m. When she made it back into the office at 7:45 a.m. yesterday, she found her colleague, Judy Mychajlyshyn, had beaten her in by half an hour.

But that's nothing. The two administrative assistants at the accounting firm of Reznick, Fedder & Silverman were bested by accountant Tim Davis, who stayed until 4 a.m. Wednesday and managed to polish off five or six returns he'd been preparing for clients.

"I was in a groove, what can I say?" says the Hagerstown native with a laugh.

This is what it's like in the tax department of a big-city accounting firm the day before April 15: It's the belly of the beast.

Reznick's tax section -- about a dozen professionals, several support staff and another four or five CPAs on temporary loan from the audit section -- will have finished several thousand returns by the end of today, and the strain is beginning to show. "Will work for beer," says a sign on an office door.

A bit of grade-school humor pervades the firm these days. William T. Riley, the Baltimore office's managing partner, recently was spotted running in the halls firing a battery-operated soap-bubble gun. It's one of the ways the staff kept its sanity as today's deadline neared.

Reznick has 57 employees, including 46 accountants, in its Baltimore office -- one of four on the East Coast.

At 9 a.m. yesterday, only Ms. Lanahan, Ms. Mychajlyshyn and a few CPAs were in the office, but within 30 minutes most of the section was back at work. Most of the professionals have been working until 10 and later every night.

But their long nightmare is mostly ended. Now it's Ms. Lanahan's turn.

With most of the tax preparation work already done, she's the nerve center of the department: She must nag the accountants about the few unfinished tasks, keep track of all the completed returns, assemble them properly and get them sent out either to clients or the Internal Revenue Service.

There's still quite a lot of paper to push before the entire firm retires this evening for a bash at Bohager's restaurant near Fells Point.

About 50,000 people in the Baltimore-Washington area will end up requesting extensions, according to IRS spokesman Domenic LaPonzina. He couldn't estimate how many federal returns would be filed today. But at the start of this week more than 650,000 federal tax returns in the area were still unfiled, out of a total 2.6 million, he said.

"The people who get refunds file early," Mr. LaPonzina explained. "The people who owe wait until the last minute to write that check and put it in the mail." And because the top federal tax rate for individuals rose to 39.6 percent last year from 31 percent, more people owe this year. A dozen or so IRS staffers will be working at the main branch of the post office tonight to answer last-minute questions until the midnight deadline.

The CPAs and support staff at Reznick downplay the effort they've put in. But when 80- and 90-hour workweeks are par for the course, when spouses and children become strangers, and when thousands of corporations, partnerships and wealthy individuals are relying on the accuracy of each decimal place in every last form, schedule and addendum, four months can seem like four years.

"On a couple of occasions we told a guy to take off on a Saturday because he needed it. He was getting testy," said Mark Einstein, the partner in charge of the tax department.

Mr. Einstein understands the dread most Americans feel toward the task his people do for a living. "If it's like root canal," he says, just remember that "the dentist doesn't feel the pain."

Besides, Mr. Einstein says, accountants get a "surge of enjoyment" out of completing a challenging task, one that demands a specialized technical knowledge.

And if the hours are nearly unbearable this time of year, they can only hope the spouses understand. The children are another story.

Taped to a bookshelf in one accountant's office is a crude pencil drawing addressed "To Mom," obviously made by a young child. "Mom come home," the caption says. Today, finally, she will.

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