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    Eat? Sleep? Not in mid-April

    With midnight ticking closer, bay area accountants and post offices brace for late hours and scrambling crowds of tax procrastinators.

    By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 15, 2003


    TAMPA -- Rosarie Carlton has ventured outside once in the past five days. She subsists on peanut butter granola bars. Sleep is a luxury.

    She has started to giggle often, a manic laugh that is fueled by exhaustion and stress and pieces of paper with titles such as "Schedule D."

    Carlton, an accountant, prepares about 150 tax returns every year from her home in northern Hillsborough County. For the past few months, her whole life has revolved around one day: April 15.

    "You're aware of the deadline at all times, and, of course, with the office in the home, the pressure's always there," said Carlton, who is 50.

    She giggled.

    "I can't go to the bathroom without passing by the office. There is no life during tax season."

    About 132-million people in the United States will file federal income taxes this year, according to the Internal Revenue Service. More than 20 percent of those taxpayers wait until the week before April 15th to file; most are people who have incredibly intricate returns or those who owe money.

    Thousands of Tampa Bay area residents are just starting to dig out their records and fill out their tax forms in hopes of getting the paperwork in the mail tonight.

    Some tax preparers, like H &R Block's Julie Rowan, are confident that they can handle the deluge of panicked taxpayers in time for the midnight deadline. "We'll stay here until the last client is served," said Rowan, the district manager of H & R Block in St. Petersburg.

    Others, like volunteer tax preparer Bob Craven, say they will call it quits earlier in the evening. Craven, a retired Pinellas sheriff's deputy, is the local coordinator for the AARP tax volunteer program in Pinellas County that helps the elderly and those with low incomes.

    He will be at the Oldsmar Public Library from 3-7 p.m. tonight. He anticipates a lot of questions about the different forms and schedules.

    "The forms really aren't more difficult this year," said Craven, who estimates that he spends 15 minutes to a half-hour with each client. "People just make it that way."

    A handful of local post offices will stay open later to handle the procrastinators. The atmosphere at postal centers, such as St. Petersburg's main office, will be more like a carnival than a federal building. It's an exercise in public relations and an attempt to cheer people up.

    From 5-9 p.m., a giant inflatable doughnut will grace the outside of the main post office. People dressed as the ubiquitous pastry will hand out free food and coffee courtesy of Dunkin' Donuts. An oldies radio station will spin tunes.

    Sue Horton, the post office's customer relations coordinator in St. Petersburg, also promises the appearance of a surprise guest at 5 p.m.

    In Tampa, postal officials are encouraging late filers not to go to the main office at the airport, as in previous years.

    The post office entrance is near the airport's vehicle security searches, and authorities are worried about a traffic jam if hundreds of people drive to the post office tonight to mail returns.

    Taxpayers should go to three alternate sites to avoid traffic jams: Westshore Plaza, the University Mall and the AMC Veterans 24 theater.

    But some won't rest easy even after their returns are in the mail. Carlton, the accountant, has to prepare sales tax paperwork for her clients on April 21st and payroll tax forms on the 30th.

    At least her own tax returns are finished.

    "It's a good year for me," she said. "I've already gotten my refund."

    Extended hours

    Here's where you can get a late postmark tonight 4/15 on your tax return. After-hours window service is available only where noted.

    BROOKSVILLE

    Main post office until midnight

    Window service until 6 p.m.

    CLEARWATER

    Main post office until midnight

    HUDSON

    Hudson post office until midnight

    PORT RICHEY

    Embassy Crossing post office until midnight

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Main post office until midnight

    Window service until midnight

    Crossroads and Gateway post offices until 9 p.m.

    TAMPA

    Airport post office until midnight

    Window service 24 hours

    Dropoff sites at Westshore Plaza, AMC Veterans 24 Theater and University Mall, 4 p.m. to midnight.

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