ELYRIA — With its website bogged down and often inaccessible under an onslaught of last-minute taxpayers trying to file their returns, the Regional Income Tax Agency on Tuesday extended its filing deadline.
The agency, which serves municipalities across Northeast Ohio, said in a news release that it won’t assess penalties or interest for those filing city tax returns by midnight Monday.
“At the height of the tax season, the Regional Income Tax Agency is facing the challenge of unprecedented demand for filing services,” the release said. “The agency has responded with increases in Internet bandwidth and phone coverage, which has improved the taxpayers’ access.”
In Lorain County, RITA handles the local income tax filing for Avon, Avon Lake, Elyria, Grafton, LaGrange, North Ridgeville, Oberlin, Sheffield Lake, Sheffield, Vermilion and Wellington.
Avon Lake Finance Director Nancy Bryan said she’s never seen anything like the problems the RITA website has experienced over the past few days. She said the site is receiving between 80 and 100 hits per second.
“I don’t think everyone was prepared for the volume,” she said.
Although the news release said that on Tuesday the agency had processed about 10,000 tax forms electronically and was answering more than 200 calls an hour by midday, there were still problems.
RITA’s website often wouldn’t load and the phone lines rang busy, leaving taxpayers scrambling to find a way to get their tax returns filed by the deadline.
Elyria Finance Director Ted Pileski said although he heard some complaints Tuesday, he heard from even more people on Monday about the problem accessing RITA’s website.
He said RITA officials had told him that they looked at website traffic on the final days of filing over the past six years and had never before had the kind of volume they’ve had this week.
“It’s unprecedented,” he said.
Before RITA announced the extension, Bryan said the city was emailing scanned copies of tax filing documents to residents who requested them so they could file their returns the old-fashioned way. She said paper documents were available at both City Hall and the Avon Lake Public Library.
The city also was prepared to count late-filed taxes as on time, Bryan said.
Avon Finance Director Bill Logan said he too had received a few calls about the problem and Avon also had been willing to waive the penalties. The forms were also available at Avon City Hall.
But he also pointed out that there was no reason for people to have waited until the last minute to file their taxes.
“My question to everybody out there is, ‘Why did you wait until now to try to get on the website?’ ” he said.
Tuesday also was the deadline for filing Ohio and federal income tax returns, but the U.S. Postal Service had limited the number of locations that were staying open late. The closest location to Lorain County with extended hours was in Cleveland.