FARMINGTON – Since they ran out in January, librarians at the local public library have had to get used to telling people “no” several times a day. They’re even more concerned with the increase in activity that typically precedes the April 15 final deadline.
Getting tax forms, they say, shouldn’t be this difficult.
Head librarian, Melanie Taylor Coombs first noticed a change when the Farmington Public Library’s first shipment of state tax forms and informational booklets arrived last month. There were roughly a quarter of the forms the library usually gets for the state taxes.
“We were surprised,” Coombs said. “We had no advance warning before this happened.”
The library has always provided tax forms and booklets for anyone requesting them, free of charge. The forms are ordered from the state’s Maine Revenue Service, and they typically go quickly. Coombs said that last year, the library had to reorder more forms three times.
So this year, assuming that some miscalculation occurred, Coombs called two weeks after the forms had arrived to tell MRS that they needed a new batch. Instead, she learned that the agency was greatly restricting the number of forms printed this year and wouldn’t send anymore.
“Now it’s February,” Coombs said, “and we’ve been out for a month. It’s just making it more difficult for people to do their taxes.”
The change isn’t just affecting Farmington. At the Wilton Free Public Library, Director David Olson said that his facility received no state forms at all. He has been letting people print forms off of the MRS’ Web site, but doesn’t want to charge residents for something that was previously free. Printing the 20 pages or so of the forms and accompanying booklet can become expensive.
“I don’t feel comfortable charging people for their tax forms,” Olson said.
“It makes us look bad,” he noted, concerned about the impact. “The worst part was that there was no communication about this. Not a happy situation.”
The policy change affects only the state forms, and people can still pick federal tax forms up at the library. The change was implemented by the MRS to save the money and resources consumed through the printing process. Responding to questions about the shortage, Jerome Gerald head of Maine Revenue Services noted that 54 percent of Maine taxpayers file their taxes electronically, through either their own Web site or third-party tax preparation software, and that “public service agencies” such as libraries, are giving fewer and fewer booklets out anyway.
Some librarians have agreed with this logic. Many people take a pair of booklets and forms, which are packaged together, intending to use one as the practice sheet. The new regulations are designed to save money and cut down on waste. Some libraries, such as the Jay Niles Memorial Library, still have forms available.
But in the larger communities across the state, librarians are complaining that they weren’t told about the change, and that their patrons, who typically claim more and more forms as April 15 approaches, will be in for a nasty shock if they intend to file at the last minute.
Farmington Public Library does maintain a small computer lab, and Coombs said she and the other librarians were willing to help people use the machines. However, they are not accountants and can’t help people actually file their taxes electronically.
“This is a big deal for a lot of the unsaavy computer people here,” Coombs said, calling the entire episode a “huge customer-service debacle” for the library.
It is recommended that people who need their state tax forms call (207) 624-7894 and ask that the information be mailed to their address. That number is not toll free.