Despite budget constraints and lack of funding, the Fort McPherson Tax Center (Bldg. 52) opened its doors Feb. 1 to applause.

The applause and gratitude was for the free tax preparation the center offers active duty servicemembers, Reservists and National Guardsmen on active duty status, military retirees and their Families.

Last year, the center's staff saved this section of the community an estimated $400,000, said Col. Deborah Grays, U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) commander. "This is one of the only grand opening ceremonies where you can feel the love," she told attendees. "I never get complaints about services provided. It is a testimony to what you do."

The center is made possible by 24 volunteers who help prepare and file tax returns, said Tanya Cole, a USAG Office of the Staff Judge Advocate paralegal and tax center manager.

Several Soldiers also assist the center by taking phone calls and scheduling appointments.

With installations facing budget cuts, Grays said many did away with their tax centers to save money.

However, because of the volunteer status of the Fort McPherson workers, no funds were needed to hire staff, which allowed the center to remain open.

Just as the operation is saving Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem money, Grays said it will also save community members money they would have had to spend if they had their taxes prepared by an outside agency. "This year is a challenging year for many people," she said. "You can't calculate the peace of mind you'll bring."

Peace of mind and good service have kept Hubert Oliver, a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran, coming back for the last 10 years. "It's so convenient. I've always been here and had no problems," he said. "You never stop a good thing."

The Tax Center is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Walk-in appointments are available daily from 1 until 3 p.m. for those filing 1040 EZ forms only. All others need to make an appointment by calling 464-2438. (Due to a high number of calls, customers may be referred to a message system upon calling.)

The average wait between calling for an appointment and receiving an appointment is one week, Cole said.

Although the tax center is now open, Cole said the Internal Revenue Service is not accepting electronic submissions until Feb. 14. Taxes can still be prepared, Cole said, and those that prepare before then will be submitted on Feb. 14 to get people their refunds as soon as possible.

The tax center will remain open until April 18.