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Published: Tuesday, 2/27/2007

Volunteers give free help to needy tax filers in area

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER
Camille Ortega, front left, provides information as Bob Myers assists her with her tax forms at East Toledo Family Center. Camille Ortega, front left, provides information as Bob Myers assists her with her tax forms at East Toledo Family Center.
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Even though the average tax return costs $150 to $175 at commercial tax-preparation firms, thousands of Toledo-area taxpayers can get theirs done totally free.

That's because dozens of volunteers donate their time at senior centers, library branches, churches, and community centers.

At the East Toledo Senior Center one day last week, the volunteer preparers included retirees Connie Dobreff, 72, who worked for a former bakery.

"I lived in this community all my life, and I love volunteering," she said.

Their efforts that day did not go unappreciated.

Taxpayers await free assistance at the Internal Revenue Service office in Four SeaGate in downtown Toledo. Taxpayers await free assistance at the Internal Revenue Service office in Four SeaGate in downtown Toledo.
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"I think it's fantastic," said taxpayer Manuel Alvarado, 82, a retired Jeep worker in Toledo. "Seniors need all the help they can get. They're very patient with us, and I'm very grateful for that."

Camille Ortega, a 62-year-old unemployed nurse who lives in East Toledo, said, "I don't have the money to pay a tax filer. I'm so glad they do it."

Juanita Greene, executive director of Toledo's Board of Community Relations, said volunteers include accountants and area college students. A number of sites in the central city have lined up helpers from banks who counsel the taxpayers on budgeting and how to open bank accounts, she said.

Toledoan Ed Reifeis, who annually helps schedule dozens of volunteers through an American Association of Retired Persons tax-assistance program, said training normally takes five to seven days. He prepares the volunteers for an IRS test, which this year had 67 questions.

The tax preparers are trained to do relatively simple returns, he said. People with businesses or rental properties are excluded, he added. The average return takes about 45 minutes, including state filings.

Many others in northwest Ohio get free tax-preparation help from Internal Revenue Service workers at offices in Lima and in downtown Toledo, at Four SeaGate.

Those offices are open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 10 and 31 and April 14. They will be open two extra hours, until 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, this year's

filing deadline.

The deadline is normally April 15, but that's a Sunday this year, and Monday the 16th is a government holiday in Washington.

The IRS centers typically help taxpayers who earn less than $39,000 annually and generally involve simple returns. However, the staff will try to help with some other situations, such as rental property, if time permits.

Many workers at Toledo Building Services, a janitorial firm, have had their taxes done for free in recent years. The company's accounting firm brings in a crew of half a dozen accountants on a Saturday early in the year.

A spokesman said the program, which was used by more than 50 workers this year, saves its employees money and keeps them from being lured into high-cost "refund anticipation loans" at commercial tax-preparation firms.

Contact Homer Brickey at:

homerbrickey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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