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District taxpayers checking their mailboxes for a refund check this year may find something else: their original return, with a note on it from the U.S. Postal Service hitting them up for an extra 12 cents.
Adams Morgan resident Gwen Rubinstein got her 2003 D.C. tax return back on Feb. 11, two days after she sent it out. On the returned return was a label saying it needed a “nonmachinable surcharge”—postal parlance for additional postage. The Postal Service further explained that “the dimensions of the envelope combined with its weight (less than 1 oz.) mean it cannot be processed by Postal Service sorting machines,” Rubinstein writes via e-mail.
Rubinstein can’t say the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue didn’t warn her. Page 5 of the instruction booklet for the 2003 tax return says postage for the first ounce costs 49 cents, a 2-ounce return is 60 cents, and each additional ounce after that is 23 cents more.
But for the previous two years, the booklet didn’t mention the cost of postage at all; a standard first-class stamp did the trick. This year, Office of Tax and Revenue spokesperson Lucy Murray says, the agency switched from a legal-sized envelope to a 9-by-12 one. The smaller envelopes required taxpayers to fold returns twice, Murray says, and the resulting ripples in the paper made them harder to scan.
Now the tax scanners are happy, but the postal machinery isn’t. Several early filers have already called Murray to complain. “We didn’t do a good job of telling people about the new envelope,” she concedes.
To avoid following in the steps of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, which didn’t mail voter guides out in time for the D.C. primary,Tax and Revenue officials are working on implementing a quick fix before the April deluge, says Murray. They’re in discussions with the Postal Service over how the District might absorb some of the extra cost on behalf of taxpayers. CP