Tax Aide gives help in preparing returns Free assistance available to seniors

March 10, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

As most of us nervously search for last year's receipts to prepare our tax returns, an estimated 700 Howard County seniors will leave the figuring to someone else.

Tax Aide, a national program sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons in cooperation with the federal government, is again offering free tax assistance to persons 60 and older.

The 25-year-old program is available by appointment at 18 locations in Howard County, including retirement homes, libraries and nutrition sites. The service will continue through April 14.

The volunteer staff consists of 39 counselors, all of whom have attended a 30-hour training course and passed a test to qualify.

One day recently, counselors John Garpstas, Abra Noble and Kay Henderson lugged corrugated boxes brimming with forms and other IRS materials into the Miller Branch Library in preparation for the seven clients they planned to meet.

Rhoda Shannon, a 75-year-old widow from Ellicott City, arrived about 20 minutes ahead of her appointment.

"Tax codes are so terrible," she said. "Every year it gets more difficult. I decided to give these people a try."

The program last year served about 660 seniors, and local coordinator Norman Tyson says word of mouth about the program has helped boost the numbers this year.

Mr. Tyson says that volunteers will make house calls if a client is unable to come to the site.

Another client, Christine Bartholomey of Ellicott City, also a widow, awaited her turn with her daughter, Regina Zielinski. Because Mrs. Bartholomey's husband had begun using the program about four years ago and had thought the counselor did a good job, Mrs. Bartholomey decided to continue with the program's assistance.

"It was a big help when I had the same gentleman who had helped my husband in the past," Mrs. Bartholomey said.

Counselors say the amount of time they spend with clients varies, depending on the work involved and the client's preparedness.

"People with stocks and bonds can take up to two hours," said Mr. Garpstas, a 59-year-old former chemical engineer who lives in Ellicott City and who has been in the program for two years.

"A simple return can take less than an hour," he said.

Ms. Noble, a 34-year-old Ellicott City housewife and mother who has volunteered as a counselor since February, says that many of the eight or nine clients she has seen this year are widows whose husbands had handled the finances and who found themselves suddenly confronted with the job.

She advises persons new to the process to consult their previous year's 1040 form as a guide for the information they will need, such as medical expenses, receipts, donations and home improvements.

If there's anything the taxpayers have in common, it's fear, said Ms. Henderson, a 68-year-old retired teacher who has been a counselor for one year.

"People are afraid of the IRS," she said. "I tell them, 'If you hear from the IRS, don't send money. Call us. They make a lot of mistakes.' "

Appointments

Appointments with a Tax Aide counselor can be made by calling the Florence Bain Senior Center at 313-7213. Most appointments are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. At Owen Brown Place, appointments are available at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Tax assistance is available at the following sites:

* Florence Bain Senior Center -- every weekday

* Miller Branch Library -- Mondays

* Savage Branch Library -- Mondays

* Heartlands -- Tuesdays

* Longwood Apartments -- Tuesdays

* Hickory Ridge Place -- Wednesdays

* Vantage House -- Wednesdays

* Owen Brown Place -- Wednesdays

* Harmony Hall -- Fridays

* Town & Country Apartments -- Fridays.

Counselors also are available at the following nutrition sites:

Longwood Apartments, Clarksville Fire Hall, Elkridge United Baptist Church, Emory United Methodist Church in Ellicott City, Hebron House in Ellicott City, Glenelg United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church in Guilford.

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