For the 2011 income tax season, reservists and their family members, retirees, Defense Department civilians and anyone having legal access to March ARB were provided with free income tax service. According to tax center and legal office officials, it was the first of a kind at an air reserve base. The service is normally provided at active-duty installations and has proved very beneficial for those scrambling to file their income tax returns.
This year individuals had until April 17 to file their income tax returns due to April 15 falling on a weekend and April 16 commemorating Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Center, staffed by volunteers from on-base organizations and, lead by a full-time income tax and marketing professional, provided the same quality of service that people expect from a pay-as-you-go tax preparation agency.
â€œWhen you work with people in the public sector you get a feel for what they expect from an outside professional tax preparation service,â€ said Gabriel Verhage, Tax Center director. â€œIâ€™d like to think we provided the same level of service, except free of charge. We take extra steps when we sit down with individuals to go through their tax information line by line explaining, this is your income, this is how it works, these are your deductions and so on.â€
Verhage said, during this tax season, depending on the circumstances of an individualâ€™s tax status, income, deductions and other factors, the average tax return equaled $4500.
â€œTax laws change every year and unless you keep up with and understand the changes, you can get lost within the system and make some costly errors with your tax planning,â€ added Verhage.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Herring, an analysis specialist assigned to the 452d Maintenance Operations Squadron lives locally and visited the Tax Center to ensure his tax return was correct using services provided by Verhage.
â€œI usually do my taxes online, but it makes me feel better when a professional tax preparer goes though my details for accuracy,â€ said Herring. â€œI just want to make sure my return is correct.â€
Some individuals found out about the tax center by accident and took full advantage of the service.
â€œI am on leave visiting my family,â€ said Marine Corps Sergeant Randy Nguyen, a field radio operator with the 3d Reconnaissance Battalion, Okinawa, Japan. â€œI stopped by the Tickets and Tours office and saw the tax center sign and decided to get my taxes done here. It saved me from having to drive 100 or so miles to Camp Pendleton.â€
Verhage told 84-year-old widow Yoko Ludwig, because of her tax status, deductions and other elements in her tax records that she did not need to file a tax return.
Legal assistance has always been an important part of legal office duties because of its connection to the memberâ€™s mission readiness status. Air Force Judge Advocate General, Lt. Gen. Richard Harding has said legal assistance is one of the four pillars of the JAG Corps.
â€œIf a military member is distracted with legal issues like consumer protection, finance and landlord/tenant disagreements, or relationship problems such as custody, divorce or even taxes, they cannot focus on their primary mission,â€ said Maj. Deric Prescott, JAG, March Legal office. â€œThe Air Force JAG Corps has been working to provide as much help and guidance to our Airmen as our staffing allows. For decades, the Internal Revenue Service has teamed up with the military to provide free tax help to military members and those affiliated with the military through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.â€
â€œWhile all Air Forces bases have been required to have some sort of tax center on their installation, March ARB leadership, despite the norm, gave their support to institute the first ever air reserve base tax center. Their vision of providing this free service has enabled us to create more than 550 tax returns for active duty, guard and reservists, retirees and dependents from all the military branches. I believe the base leadershipâ€™s decision to carry out this project turned out pretty well,â€ added Prescott.
The success of the Tax Center this year shall provide a benchmark for the 2012 tax season and perhaps more individuals will take advantage of the service next year.