A tale of two income tax offices

IRS staff swamped

Maryland site placid

April 15, 2001|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Tony Mastrocola and Brent McKee must have felt something like the Maytag repairmen of the state Comptroller's Office yesterday as they waited to help last-minute taxpayers prepare their returns.

They had two ranks of chairs lined up in the lobby of the state office building at 301 W. Preston St. where people could wait, and cubicles behind them to give taxpayers a little privacy. But hardly anyone showed up, even though state and federal income tax returns must be postmarked by midnight tomorrow.

"We thought we were going to be real busy today," McKee said. "When we came in, there were four or five people waiting for us. They'd been here since 8 o'clock. But that was about it."

Indeed, 15 people had signed a sheet at the counter in front of the cubicles between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. But the next person after that didn't arrive until 10:40, and the slow trickle continued until they closed up at 1 p.m.

"Sometimes, when the filing deadline is on a Monday, the last weekend is slow," said Ron Hentzner, the office manager. "And now, people can file online, too."

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer opened offices throughout the state on Presidents Day and the past two Saturdays to help taxpayers file their returns, and the offices will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Income tax returns normally are due April 15, but the deadline is extended when the 15th falls on a weekend.

While Mastrocola and McKee waited, the federal tax preparers in the Fallon Building at Hopkins Plaza were playing to a full house.

Long wait for help

"They're going to give you a Monday appointment," warned a man leaving the building with his forms in an envelope tucked under his arm.

A line stretched to the door of the windowless basement room, and people huddled at a dozen counter windows, getting help.

Nearly 100 more sat in the waiting area. They stared blankly at a television screen where a videotape of a Wallace and Gromit movie played repeatedly with the volume so low that you had to strain to hear the dialogue. Others slept or read.

Tax preparers finished with one person, checked the lists and called the next name.

A bell rang and a voice announced, "Now serving number 864 at counter number 6. Now serving number 864 at counter number 6."

"We're booked full for the rest of the day," Internal Revenue Service office manager Lewis L. Kubiet said shortly after noon.

"Anybody comes in now, we'll give them an appointment for Monday," he said. "And if Monday doesn't work and they're due a refund, we'll try to accommodate that."

Monday hours

The office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Kubiet estimated he can work 300 to 350 people through his office in a day, depending on how complicated their returns are.

Darryl Barksdale sat in the front row, leaning over his Game Boy while Kesha Hazleton cuddled their 2-month-old son, Darryl, on her lap.

"I've been putting it off and putting it off," Barksdale said. "Now, I need help to do it."

They had been there about 2 1/2 hours, Hazleton said, and had no idea how much longer they would have to wait for help. They didn't know they could have made an appointment.

Last-minute ritual

Bonita Williams sat with a book open in front of her, but she didn't appear to be reading much of "God Don't Like Ugly."

The last-minute wait for help from the IRS has become a ritual for her, she said, because she usually owes money.

She also usually makes an appointment to avoid the long wait.

But this year she didn't, so she arrived about 10 a.m. and was still waiting after noon.

"But it's OK," she said. "I'm a people watcher."

Post office hours

Here is a list of Maryland post offices that will be open late tomorrow to accommodate last-minute tax filers:

Open until midnight: Main post offices in Annapolis, Baltimore, Bel Air, Columbia, Cumberland, Frederick, Hagerstown and Salisbury.

Open until 11 p.m.: Main post offices in Ellicott City and Glen Burnie.

Open until 10 p.m.: Easton and Elkton.

Open until 7 p.m.: Finance units at Mondawmin Mall, Towson Town Center and Security Mall.

Open until 6 p.m.: Havre de Grace, Catonsville, Halethorpe, Nottingham and the Pikesville Finance Unit.

Open until 5:30 p.m.: Cockeysville and Owings Mills.

Five representatives from the Internal Revenue Service's Taxpayer Education Program and four representatives from the Maryland Income Tax Division will be available to provide help from 6 p.m. to midnight at the main post office in Baltimore, 900 E. Fayette St.

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