$10 million ... and counting: Fort Bliss Tax Center to stay open through May 26
April 22, 2010
At the stroke of midnight on April 16, the Fort Bliss Tax Center marked the end of tax season with tremendous statistics to tell the story of the support they offered the Bliss community through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. But as if $10.9 million worth of returns for approximately 5,000 filings (almost twice as much as 2009) wasn't enough, center officials said they will stay open through May 26 to support Soldiers scheduled to return from deployment through May. By law, returning Soldiers have 180 days after they return from deployment to file without penalty.
With filing offices on main post (Bldg. 5864, Abernethy Avenue, by the Air Assault Obstacle Course and Rappel Tower) and East Fort Bliss (Bldg. 104, Old Ironsides Road,) this year marked the first time the center opened two locations at Fort Bliss. In a March issue of The Monitor, Capt. Guillermo Rovayo, a Soldier from the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate General and the Fort Bliss Tax Center's officer in charge, said the two-office initiative would serve Bliss' growing, complex population more effectively. On April 21, he said it did just that.
"It was a good experience," said Rovayo. "Though the workload didn't break down to being half-and-half, we got about 1,200 returns (from less-populated East Fort Bliss) and 90 percent of them were for single Soldiers." Rovayo had said the tax center at East Fort Bliss was stood up with a focus on serving East Bliss' higher single (and typically younger) Soldier population.
With the beginnings of Bliss' historic growth currently underway, Rovayo said doing the two-office "experiment" this year will only benefit VITA volunteers next year, when he predicts the Bliss Tax Center will see up to 7,000 returns.
"Next year, all our BCTs, including the one forming up, will be here, so [East Fort Bliss] will be crowded," said Rovayo, "so this season we got a good chance to coordinate between the two offices so [the Tax Center] can better serve them. Next year we expect to do half-and-half in terms of returns between the two locations."
Though there will be a new tax center OIC and staff next year, Rovayo said he'll recommend more tax stations in the East Fort Bliss location and more volunteers to meet heightened filing demands.
With as much as his volunteers accomplished between the center's Jan. 11 opening and the close of tax season, he said his staff is happy to serve returning Bliss Soldiers throughout the month of March.
"Normally we'd close the office at the end of April," said Rovayo, "but we figured we'd stay open the extra month to cover [Soldiers returning from deployment] so they don't have to wait to care of their taxes."
Though the tax center's season was extended with Soldiers returning from deployment in mind, all eligible filers are encouraged to use the centers for as long as they're open this year.
Spc. Melissa Kirschner, a Soldier from 978th Military Police Company and a VITA volunteer, said though she expected to work hard when she signed on with VITA, she was still surprised by the workload which came her and her peers' way this year.
"It was a shocker at first," said Kirschner. "I figured a lot of people would come, but when they did, it was still surprising."
Amid the strenuous number crunching, she said she learned a lot about the Federal Tax Code and will continue to be glad to do her part throughout March. VITA volunteers like Kirschner saved on-post filers more than $1 million in estimated filing fees they would have been charged by commercial tax preparers.
"All-in-all it was a good experience," said Kirschner. "I learned a lot of stuff that I want to keep in mind for the future. Like, when I buy a house or rent one to others [volunteering with VITA] has given me more perspective."
The Fort Bliss Tax Center's two locations remain open on a walk-in basis only. They're ready to help filers get the most out of their returns Monday through Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They'll also be open Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information on the Fort Bliss Tax Center, call 568-6079.