By Brian Messenger
ANDOVER — The Massachusetts and New Hampshire congressional delegations are urging the Internal Revenue Service to delay closing its tax return processing center here saving hundreds of local jobs.
In September, Andover is scheduled to become the fourth IRS location in the country to stop handling paper tax returns.
As a result, the IRS has said that more than 700 employees will be laid off this fall. That number could be as great as 1,700, according to U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who along with U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas and 13 other members of Congress, have asked IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to delay the layoffs until 2012.
The IRS is consolidating its paper tax return processing as more Americans file their taxes over the Internet.
But with the federal government spending billions of dollars on stimulus projects to create or save jobs, Tsongas said now is not the time for the IRS to reduce its work force.
"The current state of our economy really requires that they reconsider it," said Tsongas. "It seems to me that this is an appropriate time to postpone the target date."
Tsongas said the IRS's reorganization plan dates to 1998.
The consolidation of paper tax return processing centers was based on a projection that 80 percent of all federal tax returns would be filed electronically by 2007, though only 59 percent of taxpayers filed their returns online that year, according to a Feb. 10 letter to Shulman signed by the 15 Massachusetts and New Hampshire legislators.
Tsongas said the IRS has yet to respond to the letter.
In comments made last month, IRS spokeswoman Peggy Riley said nearly 20.8 million tax returns were processed electronically in Andover last year, up from about 18.5 million in 2007.
Riley said those slated to lose their jobs will get preference for reassignments to other locations within the agency. Many will qualify for a buyout, and more than 250 will be eligible for retirement this fall, she said.
More than 3,000 IRS employees work at the Andover location on Route 133.
After the proposed layoffs occur, Andover would remain home to the only IRS customer service call center in New England. Jobs in auditing, collections, employee training, criminal investigations, security, and data management would also remain in town, Riley said.
The IRS also has offices in Boston, Quincy, New Bedford, Southborough, Hyannis, Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield, and Stoneham. In New Hampshire, the agency operates out of Nashua, Manchester, Portsmouth, Laconia and Keene.
Tsongas said the proposed layoffs will have an impact on the entire region.
Also signing the Feb. 10 letter were Sen. Ted Kennedy and U.S. Reps. William Delahunt, Stephen Lynch, James McGovern, John Olver, Michael Capuano, Barney Frank, Edward Markey, Richard Neal, and John Tierney.
From New Hampshire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter included their signatures.
State Sen. Sue Tucker, D-Andover, said she planned to speak with Gov. Deval Patrick this week about urging the IRS to delay the layoffs.
"We're trying to save jobs," said Tucker. "The IRS ought to rethink this plan."