Even with tax rules changing, number-crunching software programs proliferating and all too many people procrastinating, there remains a comfortable constant in the Lawrence area's tax-filing universe.
Jack Connolly and his cadre of fellow tax-filing volunteers never mind helping.
"It's a welcome challenge," said Connolly, one of a dozen volunteers who help people compile their tax returns at the Lawrence Senior Center. "Those of us that understand numbers know that lots of people don't. This is something we know how to do and enjoy doing it."
The volunteers' unpaid work will help more than 1,600 people file their tax returns this season as part of the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, sponsored by AARP and the Internal Revenue Service.
The deadline for filing state and federal income taxes is April 15, and volunteers are available to help get the proper paperwork prepared.
Officially, the program is set up to assist elderly taxpayers with low to moderate incomes. But Connolly and his fellow tax helpers regularly help anyone who stops by the Senior Center with the proper documentation: W-2 forms, 1099s and other relevant tax information.
Volunteers have tax forms on hand, and the capability to e-file returns. The only charge is for making copies -- a must, given the operation's use of the Senior Center's photocopying machine.
"And it's cash only," said Connolly, who figures that an average tax return costs anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar. "Bring your nickels with you."
The group isn't the only one running tax numbers for free this season.
Kansas University students once again are running their VITA -- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance -- program for students, staff, faculty and others in town who could use a hand. There's no appointment necessary to get help, and volunteers are posted at KU's Green Hall, Penn House, Salvation Army and Ballard Community Center to reach as many people as possible.
Ottawa University is in its third year of running a VITA program. Accounting majors gather from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at the campus Vera Wise Technology Center to help file 1040As, 1040EZs and accompanying state returns.
Those receiving help aren't the only ones who benefit, said Ted Chapman, an assistant professor of business administration at Ottawa.
"This service also provides educational worth for the students involved," said Chapman, a certified public accountant "It's a truly wonderful method for them to develop their skills. Many of these students will probably go on to work for companies that offer tax preparation, and this provides them with a great opportunity to determine if this is the path they want their career to take."
|This year's Tax Counseling for the Elderly program is available for anyone looking for assistance preparing and filing their state and federal income tax returns, excluding business filings or otherwise complicated cases.The free assistance is available at:¢ Lawrence Senior Center, 745 Vt.: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays (e-filers only); and 9 a.m. to noon during the first Saturdays of each month.¢ Baldwin Senior Center, 1221 Indiana in Baldwin: By appointment. Call (785) 594-2409.¢ Courthouse Square Apartments, 235 S. Main St. in Ottawa: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays.¢ Homebound, elderly taxpayers may arrange for in-home assistance. For more information or to make an appointment, call Jack Connolly, (785) 865-3985, or Rita Lucas (785) 887-6070.Students at Kansas University's Law School also offer assistance through the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program as follows, excluding KU Spring Break which is March 19 to March 27:¢ Mondays: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the computer lab at KU's Green Hall.¢ Tuesdays: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Penn House, 1035 Pa.¢ Wednesdays: 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Salvation Army, 946 N.H.; and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the computer lab at Green Hall.¢ Thursdays: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Ballard Community Center, 708 Elm in North Lawrence; and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Lawrence Housing Authority, 1600 Haskell, No. 187.¢ Saturdays: 10 a.m. to noon, computer lab at Green Hall.Ottawa University accounting majors, trained through the VITA program, also are offering tax assistance for anyone. Volunteers provide help filing forms 1040A and 1040EZ, along with companion state tax returns, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays in the Vera Wise Technology Center on campus.|