Despite the sometimes baffling new tax laws, the number of returns already filed with the Ogden Internal Revenue Center is up 3 percent over last year, according to IRS District Director Carol Fay.

Fay, who addressed the Salt Lake Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon, said sweeping changes in the tax laws passed by Congress last year had been expected to keep taxpayers grappling with their returns longer than usual.But so far, about 5.3 million returns have been received by the Ogden processing center. That's about half the number the center expects to receive before the April 15 deadline for filing, Fay said.

Traditionally, about half of all returns arrive at the IRS between April 1 and April 15, with one-fourth getting there the last three days, she said.

The IRS is finding more mistakes on returns this year, but many are just simple math errors rather than a misunderstanding of the new tax laws. At the same time, the average amount refunded to taxpayers is down from last year, from $835 for 1986 returns to $763 for 1987 returns.

Fay drew laughs from the audience when she said that the new tax laws were the result of Congress' efforts to make taxpaying simpler and fairer. "Congress couldn't do both. So it's fair but its not simple," she said. "We're sad to say it's a more complex system."

She said the changes were frustrating to IRS employees, too. But she said they are getting better at answering taxpayers' questions, contrary to recent reports that IRS employees frequently give incorrect information.

Fay said that most of those questions that were not answered correctly dealt with changes in the deduction for Individual Retirement Accounts, which now vary according to income, and that the IRS employees had not gathered enough information from the taxpayers to give an accurate response to the individual case.

She promised that the IRS will become more efficient as more paper files are replaced with laser discs.

Fay said that by 1991, a return filed on a Monday could result in a refund being deposited in a taxpayer's bank account the following Friday.

The new system, currently being implemented, is expected to save the IRS $100 million nationwide over the next 10 years. Currently, about 49 cents is spent for each $100 of taxes collected, she said.

The 15,000 Utahns who filed their returns via electronic filing services, which utilize the laser discs, waited an average of just over 18 days for their refunds, which averaged $1,054, Fay said.