Metro libraries short on tax forms
Troy — For many taxpayers, visiting the library has been a rite of spring, the place they go to get the forms needed to file their returns by April 15.
But because of budget cuts, the Internal Revenue Service is making fewer forms available at local branches, sparking a backlash from filers who do their taxes the old-fashioned way, on paper.
"The issue is our ongoing budget," said Luis Garcia, an IRS spokesman in Detroit.
That's small comfort to people hunting down 1040s, Schedule As and other forms needed to satisfy the tax man.
"I'm really pissed off about it," said Tom Seim, 73, of Troy, who stopped by the Troy Public Library last week looking for forms. "It's another example how the government is making it harder and harder for an individual to do his own taxes."
Library employees across Metro Detroit are getting an earful about it, too.
"Some people have expressed, um, their displeasure, to us," said Annamarie Lindstrom, assistant director of the Roseville Public Library. "But most people understand that we provide the service for the IRS and it's not something we have chosen to do."
Since 2010, the IRS budget has been reduced about 10 percent from $12.5 billion to $10.9 billion in the 2015 fiscal year. Garcia said he didn't have figures readily available on how much its costs the IRS to print tax forms, but he said it's significant.
In January, the IRS announced that budget cuts enacted by Congress prompted it to reduce the number and type of forms in its Tax Forms Outlet Program, which offers tax products to the public, primarily through participating libraries and post offices.
"The decision to reduce the number of tax products available to our TFOP partners was not made lightly," it said in a statement. "We realize this decision is not ideal and we understand it may impact you and your customers."
For this tax season, Roseville's library received only copies of the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ forms, Lindstrom said. Unfortunately, she said, the IRS didn't send instruction books.
Matt Church, director of the Berkley Public Library, said his staff is also getting complaints about the dearth of tax forms.
"And it's at every library across the board," he said. "We're all in the same boat here, so we've tried to keep it as positive as possible, but it's a challenge to do."
He said most of the complaints have come from senior citizens who don't have Internet access at home or who aren't comfortable putting their information online.
"Lots of frustrated folks coming up and sort of venting to us when they hear the news," Church said. "A lot of folks are finding out about the change from us. Unfortunately, we have to be the bearer of bad news."
Mallorie Colvin, technology specialist at the Troy Public Library, said the staff gets at least five or six complaints a day about not having all of the tax forms available.
"It's something we've been hearing quite a bit about," she said. "A lot of people assumed it was us, so we have to explain that it wasn't.
"People are just so used to coming to the library and getting their forms that it's a shock when they show up and don't find them."
Besides the cost, Garcia said the IRS cut back on paper forms because more and more people are using the IRS website to file their taxes electronically.
The number of visitors to irs.gov is up almost 20 percent over last year, according to the agency. The site has been visited more than 100 million times so far this year, compared with 85 million for the same time last year, officials said.
The IRS also said it had received 27.5 million tax returns as of Feb. 12, slightly more than at the same time last year. Of those returns, more than 96 percent were e-filed.
"For every eight (paper copies) of the 1040EZ form we send out, only one of them gets used and sent to us," Garcia said. "We estimate 91 percent of taxpayers already use software to do their tax returns, so that's one of the reasons we've slowly started to reduce printing (the forms) over the years.
"We're reducing the total number of forms and the types of forms that are being printed."
Lindstrom said the Roseville library staff is suggesting alternatives to people seeking paper tax forms.
She said they're referring those who are computer-savvy to the IRS website, including to irs.gov on the library's own website. They're also providing phone numbers to get tax forms.
Church said the Berkley library put together a half-page flier explaining the situation. His staff also is referring patrons to the IRS website, AARP tax aid workshops at the community center as well as offering to print out the forms, he said. It charges 15 cents for each printed page.
Staff at the Troy Public Library is offering to download and print the tax forms at a discount, Colvin said.
"We normally charge 10 cents for a black and white page, but we're doing it for 5 cents," she said. "We also have printouts of where people can find forms online, the phone number they can call to order forms from the IRS and we have information on contacting their congressman since Congress cut the number of forms in the program."
Dan Podnar, 78, of Rochester said he'll either have to call the IRS to order the forms he needs or print them off his home computer. He said he tried at home to print the instruction booklet for the tax form he uses, but his printer ran out of ink and paper.
"It's irksome," he said during a visit to the Troy library to pick up copies of the available forms. "It's a ripoff. We need to get rid of all of those guys in Washington."
Garcia said old-school taxpayers can still get hard copies of forms, just at fewer places.
"We have tax forms at our taxpayer assistance centers and at participating libraries," Garcia said. "But more and more people are going to our website and downloading the forms they need. We expect that to continue to grow."