Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B (36202)

“There’s plenty for the few, but nothing for the plenty”–Sean Penn, “The Assassination of Richard Nixon” (2004)

It’s that’s time again. Income taxes. For many, it’s a time of trepidation and even travail, especially if you’re sweating out a possible audit, and if you’re expecting a refund, it seems, you don’t relax until the check arrives and it’s cashed or deposited.

This year, the income tax version of D-Day is April 17. Most years, it is April 15, and from 1918 to 1955 it was March 15–the fabled Ides of March. Regardless of the date, the day is universally dreaded or welcomed, depending on your individual circumstances.

They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but equally taxing is smarmy Keith Olbermann, righteously fired by unknown Current TV. Other certainties include unspeakably scurrilous Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC and Fox News Channel perched atop cable news for the last dozen years, but those taxing realities are stories for another day.

That said, have you ever thought about how taxing it must be for those who work in the tax offices? You know, the men and women who hand out forms, answer questions, give advice and, very often, take heat from taxpayers on the phone and in the flesh?

I’m not referring here to the Internal Revenue Service–the federal agency most often associated with the subject of personal income taxes. This is about paying state taxes, which are assessed by 41 of the 50 states. Those without are Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

As a veteran taxpayer–aren’t we all?–who has paid income taxes to three different states, a few years ago I decided it was time this hardy breed got a little recognition. Thus, as a New York Daily News columnist, I visited a busy district office of the State Department of Taxation. At the time, it was one of 15 throughout the state.

There, I talked at length with two ladies–the supervisor of Taxpayer Services and a veteran seasonal employee. Believe it or not, these charming, hard-working women handled the crush at the counter all alone–content that they were serving the public.

“We consider ourselves a buffer between the public and the tax collection agency,” the supervisor told me. “Many people come in here in fear, and we try to send them away feeling better. That’s a big accomplishment.”

The seasonal employee, who retired after 17 years as a sales clerk tax auditor, had spent the last three tax seasons assisting taxpayers, and according to the supervisor, her background made her a natural for the job.

So what kind of assistance does a taxpayer assistance office provide? And what kind of questions do they get?

“Concerns are all over the lot,” said the supervisor. “Some people just want to know how to fill out the forms, but many live nearby and work in New York City or Yonkers. That means paying the state resident income tax in New York and local, nonresident taxes in the city or Yonkers. Some live in Connecticut [which had no income tax at the time] and work in the city, so they must pay New York state as well as New York City taxes.

“Everything requires the proper forms, which we stock,” she continued, “and a lot of people ask for our help in filling them out. While we are not permitted to go line by line, we give guidance and point out mistakes if they bring in completed forms.”

“And it’s all over the counter?” I asked.

“That’s right,” the seasonal employee said, “although we do put out a table with extra forms the last couple of weeks before the mid-April filing deadline. We have dozens of different kinds, and they’re all in demand.”

Glancing through the wall racks that were chock-full, I believed it. Of course, I helped myself to a few extras for my own annual mathematical brain-twisting.

The supervisor said they stock forms for income and sales taxes, withholding, partnership and corporation taxes, estate, gift and real property taxes, and many more–along with detailed instructions on how to fill them out.

The supervisor ran three businesses before joining the department and said there’s a lot of activity in tax implications of early retirement, as well as with people who move in and out of state and couples who work in different states. She and the seasonal employee also help senior citizens in the Volunteer Tax Assistance Program.

“And how about unusual experiences?” I asked. “You know, the kind of weird goings-on that we occasionally laugh at in comedy movies or on television?”

“Well, a Garment District worker paid with his W-2 sewn to the form instead of stapled,” said the supervisor. “A wheelchair-bound woman in labor was on her way to the hospital to have triplets and a man invented a Social Security number in front of us.” Whoa!

I asked the ladies for their best advice for taxpayers. You know, some practical tips for making the gut-wrenching annual task a little less taxing and a little more relaxing.

“Keep detailed records, don’t be afraid to ask if you think the state has made an error and file on time,” the supervisor emphasized, “even if the money to pay isn’t immediately available to you.” She was very insistent on this point.

“You can always arrange a payment schedule,” she added. “Filing late isn’t worth the heavy penalties and interest you’d end up paying.”

I say amen to that, as one who has been down that road and does not want to return. And that’s the name of that tune.