Computer error blamed for incorrect tax notices

April 26, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Due to a computer glitch, the state has wrongly charged some taxpayers interest after incorrectly determining that not enough money had been withheld from their paychecks to cover their 1994 taxes, the comptroller's office acknowledged yesterday.

Marvin Bond, a spokesman for Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, could not say how many taxpayers received incorrect notices that interest was due, but said it was probably about 1,500 to 2,000.

The mistake appears to have affected only taxpayers who last year sought an extension of the deadline for paying their 1993 taxes or whose 1993 taxes were processed late for some other reason. Further, those taxpayers were owed a refund, but asked that it be applied to their 1994 taxes instead.

The law allows the state to assess interest if the total tax due exceeds $250, but the computer error apparently charged interest on tax obligations of less than that.

The comptroller's office blamed an overly aggressive computer program, which sent bills to collect lost interest before the refunds for 1993 of late-filing taxpayers could be credited to their 1994 accounts.

Mr. Bond described the problem as relatively minor and said that taxpayers who were incorrectly charged interest can have the charge waived by calling tax offices at 1-800-MDTAXES. There is no need to file a formal appeal, he said.

He said technicians have already fixed the computer program to halt additional mailings of incorrect bills for about 82,000 taxpayer accounts.

Mr. Bond said a second but smaller group of taxpayers also may have been sent inaccurate notices. That group would include taxpayers who knew they underpaid their estimated taxes, who calculated the interest owed and sent it in, but who still received a bill from the state for additional interest.

"If they did that, and they get a bill from us, the bill means the computer calculated the interest differently than the taxpayer did," Mr. Bond said. "We want to hear from them, too. Was there something about their financial dealings that would make their calculation right?"

Mr. Bond said part of the problem is that the new computers used by state tax collectors are working so efficiently that they are dispatching bills faster than ever before.

In this case, it was a bit too fast.

"We're viewing it as something we ought to fix," he said.

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