Thirty-six minutes after midnight Wednesday, long after the D.C. Municipal Center usually closes, the last taxpayer to take advantage of the District's tax amnesty program emerged from Room 2066 -- a little frayed but, by his calculations, about $500 better off.

The elderly taxpayer had walked into the room moments before the midnight deadline and spread his tax returns over a desk to make some last adjustments. As time began slipping away and other last-minute taxpayers left the Department of Finance and Revenue's tax amnesty center at 300 Indiana Ave. NW, the man considered giving up and mailing his returns later.

But a quick computation revealed that if he took advantage of the amnesty program he would save an estimated $500 in interest and penalties. Encouraged by the staff, the man, who did not give his name, completed his returns.

City officials were in high spirits yesterday. "Without a doubt it's been an extremely successful program," said Stanley Jackson, the amnesty project's director and manager of the finance department's investigations and delinquent collections division. "I think we met our $10 million goal."

The tax amnesty program, which began July 1, was established last year by the D.C. Council with Mayor Marion Barry's approval. Under the one-time effort, the city agreed to waive civil and criminal penalties if taxpayers voluntarily paid back taxes and 50 percent of any interest due.

Several thousand individuals and businesses took part in the amnesty project, Jackson said, adding that businesses accounted for about 60 percent of the returns and are expected to provide the bulk of the funds. It will take several weeks for city officials to process the returns and tally the results, Jackson said.

Wednesday night, as many as 50 D.C. employes worked to process the late returns. An armed guard sat nearby. A constant stream of late taxpayers arrived, hoping to save some money.

"This is great. This is a wonderful way of doing it because you've got to file {the taxes} eventually anyway," said Jenetha Facey, who, with two minutes to spare, was among the last five to meet the deadline.

"They've just been happy," said Rosemary Little, a supervisor on hand to collect the taxes.

A man who declined to identify himself crossed the threshold of Room 2066 at the stroke of midnight Wednesday. Sweating heavily, he said, "I didn't think I was going to make it. I couldn't find a cab."

A 95-year-old woman filed tax returns for the first time since 1963, telling Jackson that she felt obligated to pay the taxes. One taxpayer, who also prepares returns for other residents, filed 394 tax returns, Jackson said. The largest back tax payment by an individual was $90,000, he added.

Some taxpayers expressed relief. "I had a block for a while," said one. "It's like looking at a snake in the eye. It helps unblock you when you finally move." Staff writer Tom Sherwood contributed to this report.