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Deadlines Don't Tax Civility of Late Filers

April 17, 2001|MATTHEW EBNET | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Through an evening of waiting in line, begging for stamps, asking where to mail their envelopes and checks, last-minute tax filers found a surprising camaraderie at the post office Monday night.

Outside the Santa Ana Processing and Distribution Center on Sunflower Avenue, some taxpayers brought coffee for the postal workers accepting envelopes from "drive-by filers," said Mike Campbell, a postal worker on the job until midnight. Some people were so grateful for a post office open late, they offered to wait in the traffic line again to bring workers a pizza. "I'll get you double cheese and pepperoni," one filer yelled out as he drove away.

Guy O'Ffill of Orange took pity on a man who had no stamps. He reached into his back pocket and offered him postage, advice on where to mail his return, assurance that "everything's going to be OK."

"We're all in this together, so might as well try to be nice about it," said O'Ffill, 38.

This year's tax day--the deadline for filing state and federal returns--was typical, postal officials said, with neither more nor fewer people than usual in line. "It's the same every year. People just wait," said Melissa Basco, area manager at the Santa Ana office. "But it is fun too. We get to get out and be with people."

And why do people wait?

At the Fountain Valley post office, one woman who did not want to give her name for fear of being audited said it was because she owed money. "I would have filed a long time ago if they owed me," she said.

Others say paying taxes is such a hassle and the forms are so complicated that making the deadline is difficult.

"I don't want to use my good moments by doing taxes," said Venu Gopinathan, 37, of Irvine. "My good moments are my free time."

Gopinathan said he spent more than 15 hours trying to fill out his tax forms, finally gave up and went to an accountant for last-minute help.

For others, the night is an annual celebration. Warren Herrick said he volunteered to drop off the tax forms for clients of his Newport Beach accounting firm. "It's a special day, when you think about it, for somebody like me," the accountant said. "I wanted to get out and see everything and be a part of it."

For people in his profession, Herrick said, tax day is like Christmas, and not just because business is booming. "Whether you owe or are getting a refund," he said, "it is a tradition. I love it."

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