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Taxes: Keep what’s yours

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Every year, when it comes to tax time, some people are literally leaving money on the table. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Fort Collins, for instance, Mayor Ray Martinez said that by his department’s calculations, about 18,000 residents of that city were eligible for the Internal Revenue Service’s Earned Income Tax Credit last year. Of those, Martinez said, 2,700 did not claim the benefit.

“We figure that’s about $4 million that could have come back into the community,” Martinez said.

The Fort Collins mayor was joined in Longmont by Mayor Julia Pirnack this past week at a ceremony announcing a new partnership between the IRS and U.S. Bank.

Last year, U.S. Bank’s downtown Denver branch hosted a site for the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, where qualified people can go to get free tax preparation done by IRS-trained volunteers.

The program was such a success that this year, U.S. Bank branches in Longmont and Fort Collins also will host VITA sites.

In the basement of the bank’s building at Fifth Avenue and Coffman Street, there are about seven workstations set up that will be manned by U.S. Bank employees.

Outside that room, there is a large waiting area with a television and even a children’s play area.

“It really is a win-win situation, because it brings people in the door of U.S. Bank,” said Christine Bertin, senior tax specialist with the IRS. “It’s to help the people who most need it, and it’s to keep the money in the community where it belongs.”

Branch manager Robert Burke said U.S. Bank would be happy to pick up new customers as a result of donating the space, but stressed that there are a couple of bigger reasons for his bank’s involvement: He is a real believer in the cause, and it’s a good way to spread his bank’s name throughout the community.

“The way I look at it is the competition here is so fierce,” said Burke. “You walk outside my door and there’s five banks, and this can be a little niche that we have that they don’t.”

Burke said 41 of his workers are involved in the project, and said the tax preparation center will stay open past April 15.

Representatives on behalf of Sen. Wayne Allard, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and Rep. Bob Beauprez attended Wednesday’s ceremony at the bank.

But that’s not the only place in Longmont that people can get free assistance with their taxes.

At the Longmont Senior Center, Mollie Hurst is the volunteer coordinator for the tax preparation program.

“I’ve been with them for 10 years, but they were doing it way before me,” said Hurst, adding that the Senior Center is not a formal VITA site, but its volunteers are trained by the IRS nonetheless.

Hurst said the center serves between 800 and 1,000 people each year. “They’re all ages, and even if they don’t speak English, we have an interpreter in the Senior Center. We discriminate against no one,” she said.

For the second straight year, Front Range Community College is offering free tax preparation.

The program has been active for several years at its Westminster campus, but it was brought to Longmont by Susan Erickson, a local CPA and a part-time instructor at the college.

“I started it originally to help the students, but I’m finding that we’re getting more members out of the community than we are students,” said Erickson, noting that eight students have volunteered to help this year.

“It’s rewarding to us when we can get a refund for them,” Erickson said. “And that is our reward — their smiles.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.