In the 40-plus years the Oregon Department of Energy has administered the Residential Energy Tax Credit program, our agency has typically seen an increase in tax credit applications in January, when Oregonians are preparing to file their personal income taxes.
This tax season has been a little different: the uptick in applications started in November, and the applications, emails, and phone calls continue to come in at a dizzying pace. Application numbers in December 2017 were almost double what we saw in December of 2016. Further, RETC-related phone calls increased about 45 percent in February, compared to the same month last year.
“There have been a few days where Pat, at the front desk, has gotten more than 100 phone calls,” says Michael Williams, manager of ODOE’s incentives program. “That’s a call every three to four minutes, just for RETC.”
The increase in volume this tax season can likely be attributed to the 2017 end of the RETC program, which began in 1975. Specific deadlines for the RETC “sunset” prompted applicants to get moving sooner. Also, anyone who was thinking of installing a RETC-approved device in 2018 or 2019 had to move up their plans to qualify for the state’s incentive.
To handle the recent surge, we added four temporary workers, allowed some full-time staff to work overtime, and worked with our information technology staff on strategies to improve workflow. Three RETC team members and two receptionists have been going pretty much nonstop on applications since last fall. As of late February, there was about a 10-week turnaround time on applications.
“We’re processing as fast as we can and we’re working on getting those backlog times down,” says Williams. “All applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.”
The end of the RETC program created some very important deadlines for applicants:
- They needed to purchase their new device by December 31, 2017.
- That device must be operational before April 1, 2018, including any necessary inspections.
- All applications must be received by ODOE before June 1, 2018.
Like in years past, some applicants won’t be able to get the needed paperwork done by the time they file their taxes. For people in this situation, they have two options: file for an extension or file an amended return.
“We’re not able to give Oregonians tax advice,” Williams adds. “For those who can’t meet the tax deadline this year, we suggest talking to their tax preparer or the Oregon Department of Revenue.”