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Volunteer programs helps NNY residents file tax returns

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Few last-minute appointments are available for low- and moderate-income families looking to file their tax returns by the April 15 deadline.

A handful of nonprofit and government agencies within Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties have used dozens of volunteers since January to run local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs, which are offered free of charge.

All volunteers are certified by the Internal Revenue Service so they can file taxes on behalf of clients.

Agencies typically receive calls about the program at the turn of each year, and appointments fill up quickly. Some locations book so quickly, there are few available appointments for stragglers.

As of Friday at Lewis County Opportunities, Lowville, there were only three appointments left to file basic returns in early April. Lewis County residents can call the agency at 376-8208, and press “0” to reach the operator.

Last year, the VITA program there assisted 182 households, with tax refunds totaling $22,695, according to the agency’s website. Earned income credits totaled $70,827, and volunteers collectively logged 157 hours to complete returns.

In St. Lawrence County, the local AARP group offers free income tax preparation and electronic filing. Phillip St. Amand, communications coordinator of the group, said the only site that offers appointments is booked through April, but three other sites take only walk-ins.

“We encourage them to get there early,” he said. “We rarely turn anyone away. We’d love to get more of the young working to come in. We’re here to help people, and do it free of charge. The government says you have to file a tax return; it doesn’t say you have to pay for it.”

The AARP program uses 22 volunteer preparers throughout sites in Massena, Potsdam, Canton and Ogdensburg.

The Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County typically has just over a dozen volunteers for its program, which is offered in Watertown, Adams, Clayton and Carthage. There are only select appointments available in April.

CAPC Deputy Director Dawn M. Cole said that as of Friday, volunteers had prepared 335 returns since the beginning of the tax season, and those returns yielded $427,742 in refunds.

Meanwhile, the VITA program also serves as a learning opportunity for SUNY Canton accounting students, who are able to “increase their tax preparation skills and teach community members how to correctly file their own personal taxes in the future,” according to a recent college news release.

Appointments at the following sites are on a first-come, first-served basis for the St. Lawrence County AARP group:

n Massena Community Center, 61 Beach St., from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays until April 15.

n Midtown Apartments, Munson and Waverly streets, Potsdam, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays until April 15.

n Canton: From 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays at the Knights of Columbus, Miner Street, and from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays at Partridge Knoll, 30 Sullivan Drive (by appointment only). Call 212-0409 to make an appointment at Partridge Knoll.

n Dobisky Community Center, Riverside Avenue, Ogdensburg, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays until April 10.

SUNY Canton accounting students will offer the VITA program from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays until April 1, except during the week of March 10, in Wicks Hall, Room 031.

To schedule an appointment, call Brian R. Trill at 379-3916.

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