Walla Walla businesses work to accommodate last-minute tax filers

Tax preparation offices in the city are pulling all-nighters to accommodate last-minute filers.

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The tax party goes all night long with music, dancing, smiles and waves to passing traffic for Liberty Tax Service employee Marshall Moman as he works the corner of 9th Avenue and Rose Street Wednesday night. Moman, 17, has been donning Statue of Liberty duds since February and, as the final countdown to the end of tax season draws near, will continue to promote Liberty's up-to-the-last-minute offerings until April 15, 2010 ticks away.

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Liberty Tax lady (Vicki has ID) still smiling in the midst of BMAC Food Drive, Cell Phones For Soldiers donation boxes, a 50 inch TV giveaway and the April 15th tax deadline.

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Customers---this one just before 9pm Wednesday---trickle in under the balloons and neon lights as Liberty Tax opens their doors 24 hours a day with the April 15 filing deadline rapidly approaching.

WALLA WALLA -- They've waved at drivers from the seat of a unicycle. From 7 feet in the air bouncing on spring-loaded stilts. Rocking out to music on their earphones. Dressed as Lady Liberty. But never, until Wednesday, in the dead of night.

In the last-minute campaign for tax preparation services, even the "wavers" at Liberty Tax Service pulled an all-nighter. From the street corner at Ninth Avenue and Rose Street, waver Marshall Moman greeted drivers at the intersection reminding them that the clock is ticking on their tax deadline.

"We've been steady all day," said Liberty Tax owner Sharon Dodgin, 12 hours into a 41-hour marathon that ends at midnight tonight. With the glow from the office illuminating the otherwise darkened corner, Dodgin and fellow tax-preparer Val Courson headed into the home stretch around 10 p.m. with a cot set up at the back of the office, a stash of movies on hand to help them through the night and in Dodgin's case a plan to tackle it all caffeine-free.

"During that first peak of the season I was working 18 hours a day," she said. The continuous work served as a warmup for the final rush before a well-deserved break at the end of this week.

Liberty Tax and the local H&R Block office have been working around the clock to assist the 11th-hour filers, greeting clients with food, potential prizes and hope for a hefty refund.

Forms sent via mail must be postmarked today to make it in time. Those filing online have until midnight tonight.

Though a large portion of those coming through the doors are procrastinators, many have been putting off the filing for a specific reason, said Bob Dodgin, general manager of the Liberty office.

"Most put it off because they were worried they were going to have to pay," he said.

In some cases, though, they learn they were wrong. He said one client was surprised to discover he had a $1,500 rebate coming his way through tax breaks he hadn't known about until he ventured into the office.

At H&R Block in Eastgate, office manager Heidi Kincheloe saw a similar story Wednesday night.

Roughly 35 people went through the office -- which operated until midnight Wednesday before re-opening this morning -- Kincheloe said. One couple that dropped in had intentionally waited to file, fearful of owing. Instead, they found out they'd be receiving $2,000 back.

"I told them not to wait so long next year," Kincheloe quipped.

She's faced the final days of tax season with an optimistic outlook for clients: "Hopefully we give them good news and, if not, we give them the bad news in a good way," she said.

That's not to say some of the final filings are free of hardship. Around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday one of those strolling into Liberty Tax Service was a woman whose employer refused to provide her a W2 form.

The woman explained that she'd been paid for her work, and federal taxes had been taken from her pay, but the employer would not provide further documentation. The problem, Sharon Dodgin said, is not uncommon among the immigrant population. But it's one with which the staff of seven tax preparers at the office has become familiar.

As long as the client has a record of gross wages and knows the number of hours worked, Dodgin said she could work from there and file a substitute W2.

"Unfortunately, we see that often," she lamented.

The hope, operators of both offices said, is to help people push through such challenges and get their forms filed -- whether that includes courier services, extensions, working through the night or even fielding the occasional odd question or client attempt to find a loophole in the system.

Dodgin said in many cases the office is able to find tax breaks that clients didn't know existed. But not everyone will be completely happy with the results.

"Whatever you do," she said, "don't let anyone try to convince you you can claim your dog as a dependent."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.


Liberty Tax Service, 688 E. Rose St., will remain open until midnight tonight for last-minute tax filers. HR Block, 493 N. Wilbur Ave. will operate until 10 tonight or until the last person comes in.

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