July 7, 2010 in Idaho

Idaho cutting service at local tax offices

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - Idaho plans to shut down face-to-face customer service at its five Tax Commission field offices outside Boise on Aug. 2, to free workers in those offices to focus on audits and collections.

That means customer service that’s been offered for more than 35 years in Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Twin Falls will go away. Instead, people who come to those offices will find a lobby phone that’ll connect them to a customer-service center in Boise, and a drop box for payments.

“It’s a big change,” said the commission’s tax policy supervisor, Dan John. “But, you know, we haven’t experienced the kind of strain on resources that we’ve had in the last couple of years, so you have to look at everything we do. Are we doing it the best way possible? And technology has changed.”

Once the change comes, customers with questions may be better off calling or emailing from home, instead of visiting their local state tax offices. The Idaho Tax Commission’s toll-free information number is (800) 972-7660, the the email address for general tax questions is taxrep@tax.idaho.gov.

John said, “We looked at what we do, and figured out that the people who tried to do counter work there, to do customer service, were really collectors and auditors, and it was distracting them from what they probably should be doing.”

Only the Boise office has a dedicated customer-service staff, he said.

“We’ve done some analysis, with cutbacks and stuff, and what they found is we’re spending about 25,000 hours handling drop-ins. So that’s taking people away from collecting, from auditing, from doing things they’re supposed to be doing.”

The field offices will reopen for customer service during the week preceding each year’s April 15 and Oct. 15 income tax filing deadlines, and on the 20th of each month for withholding filings.

Initially, the change won’t be accompanied by any staffing changes, such as adding customer-service positions in Boise, John said. “We’ve got a couple of positions in the field that we’re not going to fill, that we might otherwise have to fill if we’re still doing this,” he said.

Idaho’s state Tax Commission, a full-time four-member board appointed by the governor, made the decision.

“We’ve been looking at all of our business practices,” John said, “trying to make sure we’re focused on what we’re really supposed to be doing, which is collecting revenue and administering the tax laws, and this sort of evolved out of that. We think we can do it more efficiently by doing it through here.”

Tax Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow told lawmakers this year that the state is losing $255 million a year in taxes that are due, but simply aren’t paid, and that the commission estimates it could collect $67 million of that by adding audit and collections staff. Lawmakers allocated $3.3 million this year toward that end, estimating that would be enough to bring in $16.4 million more in tax collections, though some would go to make up recent budget cuts.

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