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Last-Minute Tax Filers Stream to Revenue Bureau Offices

April 15, 2008 — Tuesday night was deadline time for hundreds of V.I. residents, who had to get their tax returns certified at the Bureau of Internal Revenue if they wanted to avoid penalties.
"The biggest penalty that residents should avoid is the penalty of not filing on time," said Deborah Evans, assistant chief of processing at the BIR office on St. Croix.
The office, behind Sunny Isles Shopping center, had its parking lot filled with more than 50 cars at about 7 p.m.
People were streaming in with tax forms clutched in their hands, heading either to the express table or to the cashier windows for cash and credit-card payments.
BIR employees with bright yellow T-shirts reading "IRB Cares" manned the table and the windows.
Residents who just wanted to file and had no questions moved quickly through the express table. Those who had questions or wanted to make payment arrangements had only short waits to get to the cashier windows. Residents were also able to file extensions.
There were two crunch times on the last day for tax filing, Evans said, the first at lunch hour and the second right after people got off work. She expected the rest of the evening to bring a steady stream of taxpayers, but nothing severe.
This year saw more filers because residents were concerned about getting checks as a result of the tax-stimulus package passed recently by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush, Evans said. Seniors who made at least $3,000 and don't always file did so this year to be eligible for the rebate. Residents who filed for an extension would be eligible for the tax rebates as long as they filed by Oct. 15.
Evans could not predict exactly when the tax-stimulus checks will get mailed out, but ventured that it would probably be June or July.
"The process was quite efficient and very accommodating for people to file after work with hours until 9 o'clock," said Jackie Joseph, a resident who dropped her forms off Tuesday evening.
The BIR has offered free tax-preparation help at its office on St. Croix every Saturday morning since February. The sessions were well-attended, Evans said. The last one had to be extended into the afternoon because of so many questions.
Even though many dread tax time, the scene at the BIR Tuesday evening was almost jovial, with a table set up providing coffee and bread.
BIR workers were not getting any complaints about the service, but some residents complained that taxes are too high, Evans said.
"The service was fast and everything went very well," said Lordsel Casey as he left the BIR office.
On St. Thomas, it was customer service and then some late Tuesday afternoon for last-minute filers outside the BIR office at Mandala Circle. Two makeshift tables were set up in the parking lot, flanked by clerks wearing bright yellow T-shirts and guarding stacks of tax filing extension forms.
"It's not busy busy, but it's steady," called out one of the clerks.
"It's been a steady trickle," echoed Alonzo Brady, chief of audit at the BIR. President Bush's recent decision to issue payments to all taxpayers to help stimulate the faltering economy has helped: "With the stimulus payment, a lot of people have filed earlier this year to make sure they get it."
As of late afternoon, last-minute filers were able to get served with barely a wait. The day typically spikes between 5 and 6 p.m. when accountants flock to the IRB at the end of the day, and there's another spike just before 9 p.m., when the office closes, Brady said. He expects his office will serve between 1,000 and 2,000 late filers by day's end.
"I always file late," said Charles Donatone with a laugh as he handed over his forms. "I always plan on having it done early and it never happens."
One woman who declined to be identified said she, too, hadn't planned to be at the BIR today.
"I said to myself in January that for once, I was going to get my taxes filed early, and here I am," she lamented, as she handed in her extension form. "But the good news is, it's taking me all of 15 seconds to get this done!"
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