ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s comptroller is moving in the left lane of the information superhighway with innovations that are making tax season less taxing.
The comptroller’s World Wide Web page gives taxpayers several options for getting help. Want to request a filing extension? You may do so online — if you don’t owe money. Need a form? You can download your choice of 28. Have a question? You can e-mail taxpayer services.
These are but a few of the services now available on the Internet. The site — at http://www.comp.state.md.us — receives 15,000 to 20,000 hits each week, said Marvin Bond, assistant comptroller and webmaster.
Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein has been thrilled by citizen response.
“Taxpayers are taking to our high-tech taxpayer services like tourists to Maryland crabcakes,” Goldstein said in a prepared statement.
“They’re helping themselves using resources on our Internet Web site, forms-by-fax system, and our interactive telephone system, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The webmaster is the person who oversees the site, handling technical problems and content. When someone visits a Web page, it is called a “hit.”
E-mail now accounts for 50 percent of the comptroller’s correspondence, Bond said. The office receives two types of e- mail: feedback about the site and tax questions. Feedback goes to Bond. Tax questions are sent to taxpayers assistance where they are read by Barbara Esker, a revenue specialist.
Depending on the complexity of the question, Esker replies by e-mail or telephone. She estimates that the office has received 1,400 electronic messages since beginning to accept e- mail inquiries last November.
“Monday is the heaviest day,” Esker said. “That’s because we are dealing with the mail that has come in over the weekend.
“We get general tax questions about residency and requirement to file… and clarification for military and part- year residents.”
Esker usually works alone, but can get help when the volume warrants it, she said.
The 16-year veteran said she thoroughly enjoys being able to answer general tax questions. And praise for the electronic innovations has been flowing quicker than excuses during an IRS audit.
“I was glad to see your tax page on the net! It was very useful for someone in my position,” came e-mail from a Maryland soldier stationed overseas.
During the summer of 1995, Governor Parris N. Glendening issued a directive requiring all state agencies to set up home pages on the Internet by the end of the year. The comptroller’s office was the first to comply, Bond said.
The comptroller’s office first ventured onto the Internet with a text-only Web page on Sailor, Maryland’s online public information network. This site provided basic information but, unlike the current site, did not support interactive functions like e-mail or downloading.
The downloading feature is important for tax preparers who need forms and instructions. Downloading allows users to view and print information.
“It was easy to find what I wanted and it was simple to print the forms,” Deborah L. Voorhees said in an e-mail sent to the webmaster. “Thank you so much for making my job a little less stressful this year!”
Voorhees, whose office is in Crofton, has been a certified public accountant for 15 years. She noted that 1997 marks the first year she’s used the Internet to prepare taxes.
Tax forms require sensitive information, like social security numbers and wages, which would not now be secure on the Internet. However, technological breakthroughs may allow citizens to file via the Web in the future.
Have a question about state taxes? Here are some numbers and addresses for easy reference:
* Comptroller’s Web page — http://www.comp.state.md.us
* Questions via e-mail — email@example.com
* To request an extension via telephone — 410 974-5TAX
* Forms by Fax — 410 974-FAXX
* General information — 410 974-3981 or toll free 800 MD TAXES. -30-