Lines stretch at tax preparers

Alicia Robinson

It happens every April.

People around the country wake up, look at the calendar and are

filled a sense of panic instilled by the thought of tax returns.

Thursday was the deadline to file state and federal tax returns on

2003 income, and people in Newport-Mesa who hadn't done so already

converged on tax preparation services and post offices to have their

forms filled out and sent off.

"We are looking out the window right now and people are outside in

the car lined up because they procrastinated until the last minute,"

said the aptly named Dave Tax, a Newport Beach tax preparer.

The main post office in Newport Beach planned for lines of

customers all day, although crowds have decreased in recent years

since online filing has become more popular, Newport Beach Postmaster

Dennis McKeown said.

"It's gotten a little bit lighter because I think the accounting

firms are doing a lot of it electronically," he said. "However,

there's still a lot of people doing last-minute returns and there's

still a lot of people coming in and getting forms."

By the early afternoon, things had slowed at the Mesa Center post

office on Fairview Road in Costa Mesa. The parking lot was full, but

many of the dozen or so customers inside were mailing packages rather

than fumbling with tax forms.

One customer, however, was examining with dismay the table that

held a depleted supply of tax forms.

"I've done my federal [taxes] but I can't do my California [taxes]

because I need a number to e-file," said Jason James of Costa Mesa.

"I just went to H&R; Block, and they won't let you do your state

unless you're doing your federal, too."

He found a state tax form for nonresidents, but little else was

left Thursday afternoon. James said he would probably still try to

file his state taxes online to get them in on time.

Another last-minute taxpayer was Costa Mesa resident Joshua Gray,

who was putting his tax form in an envelope he had decorated with a

happy face.

"I usually wait till the last minute," he said. "I'm a

procrastinator, plus I owe money."

The Costa Mesa office saw a steady stream of people buying postage

to mail their taxes, but it wasn't overwhelmed with customers,

station manager Dennis Whipple said.

Because of decreasing demand at many locations, just two Santa Ana

post offices keep extended hours, but McKeown said local branches do

have extra staff on duty and they offer stepped-up service, emptying

mail drop boxes more often and sorting the tax returns into federal

and state groupings before sending them off.

McKeown said many customers have their tax forms ready to go, but

they choose to wait in line for a personal assurance that someone is

taking care of such important mail.

"A lot of people, they'll have their envelope ready and they'll be

stamped, and they just want to hand them to somebody," he said.

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