Last minute rush to post office is party for tax procrastinators

Were you at the post office on April 15th? Those long midnight lines seem to get longer each year, and our Indianapolis post offices, along with the Indianapolis policemen and sheriffs who provide traffic control, just take it all in stride.

The downtown post office as well as the Nora and Southport branches, provided convenient curb service for tax procrastinators on the 15th, greeting taxpayers as they drove by and collecting the envelopes from the street.

"We were extremely busy. There was a line of cars from the time we opened up until we closed at midnight, and quite a few people in the lobby buying stamps and sending tax returns," according to Claude Hawkins, customer service supervisor at the Nora branch.

"It was awesome," claimed Diana Berty, supervisor of customer relations at the Southport branch. "It was a big party for these people."

From 10:30 to midnight, post office employees donned ponchos and maintained their posts in the torrential rain, smiling and greeting last minute tax filers. At Nora, a postal employee sorted the tax envelopes in the bed of a 2-ton truck so the envelopes wouldn't get wet. Lobbies were open at the three locations as well, for people who wanted a more personal touch with their precious tax returns.

"Some people like to physically hand it to the clerk," commented Hawkins. "They want it certified so there's evidence it was mailed on the 15th, or they want it weighed to make sure they have the right amount of postage on it."

Rodney Stepp, customer relations coordinator for the downtown post office has been involved in tax day for five years and wouldn't change anything about the way the downtown post office operates on April 15th. "It's gotten to be so smooth, we've got it down to a science," Stepp said. "We have a great, energetic crew, they get out there and really make it a fun day." Wait a minute. April 15th a fun day?

Waiting to the last minute may delay your refund, but there are some benefits too. You could munch free pizza at the Nora branch, courtesy of a local radio station, and Nextel, a cellular communications company, was passing out doughnuts downtown. You could also climb into the Nextel trailer and make a free 3 minute phone call anywhere in the continental United States, "to call about your tax woes," said Stepp. The free calls were billed as a "Tax Release Celebration."

There were a few stragglers who came in to the branches after midnight, the real procrastinators, hoping they could still get an April 15th postmark. "I told one lady the truck was probably already gone, but we could take her mail and process it just like any other mail. I actually tried to get it to the truck for her," said Hawkins.

And what about those mandatory April 15 postmarks? At the stroke of midnight, both Nora and Southport sent a truckload of tax forms, which they had been loading all day, to the downtown branch. Then the real fun began. "We cancelled about 1.2 million pieces of mail and finished at about 1:30 or 2 in the morning," said Stepp, who spoke to me from his home where he was recuperating from his 19-hour tax day.

Once the postmark is applied to the envelopes, they go into the regular mail system with the rest of the mail. "They're processed just like any other mail," said Stepp. "We don't change just because it's tax day."

And why do so many people wait until midnight April 15 to mail their tax returns, when, in many cases, they've had the information for the returns since January? Here are some of the responses from Nora:

"I meant to do this earlier, but I just forgot."

"I didn't finish my tax return until today."

"I don't want to give up my tax money any earlier than I have to."

"My tax return's still not done, but I had to file an extension today."

"I come here every year at midnight, it's a tradition!"

And, my personal favorite:

"I already filed my tax return, but I heard they had pizza!"

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