By Emily Le Coz and Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The image of the harried taxpayer on a pre-midnight dash to the post office soon could fade into memory.
As more people file their taxes online, post office branches across the country have ceased midnight service on Tax Day, which is today.
Tupelo is no exception. It halted the practice for the first time in 2009 when the Thomas Street post office closed at 10 p.m. on Tax Day. This year, it’s closing at 8 p.m.
“We still get a lot of walk-in traffic for last-minute filers and lots of businesses like to wait,” said post office manager Evelyn Baldwin. “But the last couple of years we’ve seen it fall off a little bit later on in the evening.”
Baldwin said that, to her knowledge, no Northeast Mississippi post office branch offers midnight hours anymore. Also gone are the zany antics that once accompanied the late nights.
“When we were staying open till midnight our postmaster and one of our supervisors dressed up like the Blues Brothers and they danced to that ‘Midnight Hour’ song for hours, and we just had a ball,” Baldwin said.
“One year the radio station came out and did something for the customers. We had a dunking booth that year and just some fun stuff like that.”
But shrinking budgets and shorter hours curtailed those stunts, she said.
Although the U.S. Postal Service has no statistics on the actual drop in processing tax returns, the Internal Revenue Service offers a clue.
Almost 80 percent of the nearly 90 million tax returns the IRS has received through April 2 came in through the Internet. In Mississippi, the percentage is even higher at 88 percent.
Among the e-filers is Sam Mosley of New Albany, who said the Internet method simplifies the entire process.
“I don’t have to bother with all the mail and getting postage,” he said. “I’ve been doing (e-file) about the last three years.”
E-file first began as a pilot project in 1986, and by 1992 average citizens could use the system for certain tax returns, according to the IRS. The program slowly evolved over the years, gaining more features and attracting more taxpayers.
It wasn’t until 2006, however, that a majority of individual taxpayers filed online.
Changes in tax filing habits reflect an overall trend toward electronic mailing instead of snail mail. And the USPS has felt the effects.
In the past decade, the volume of single-piece, first-class mail has declined by 19 billion pieces, or 29 percent, according to the USPS. The dropping numbers has forced the federal agency to close post office branches and consolidate mail-processing operations nationwide.
Tupelo’s own mail-processing facility could be next; the USPS last year launched a study into consolidating its outgoing operations to Memphis. A decision hasn’t yet been made on that move but could happen soon, said USPS spokeswoman Beth Barnett.
Barnett also dismissed suggestions that electronic tax filings hurt the postal service.
“We continue to see people at the post office” mailing tax returns, she told the Daily Journal.
Richmond Smith of Pontotoc and Juanitta Easley of Blue Springs are among the roughly 97,100 Mississippians who sent their tax returns through the post office.
Easley said she doesn’t have Internet access at home and feels uncomfortable putting sensitive information online.
For Smith, it’s a matter of knowledge.
“I do it myself and I learn more,” he said. “Filing on paper makes me really understand and go back and read the booklet.”
Both Smith and Easley already filed their returns. Not so for Joe Cash. The Tupelo accountant plans to get his extension form in the mail today – he hopes by this afternoon, but no later than 8 p.m.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or email@example.com.