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Volunteers help nearly 80 Harford taxpayers file their returns through Tax Aide program on Maryland Tax Day

Volunteers help nearly 80 Harford taxpayers file their returns through Tax Aide program on Maryland Tax Day
Bruce McCommons, right, a volunteer with the AARP Foundation's Tax Aide program, helps Dave and Melissa Graham, of Bel Air, process and file their tax return Saturday during Maryland Tax Day at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa. (David Anderson / The Aegis)

Martha Martin waited for about two hours to see a volunteer tax preparer Saturday, but the free preparation service and electronic filing of her tax return made it worth the wait.

“It’s a definite appeal,” Martin, a Bel Air resident, said of the free service provided through Tax Aide, an AARP Foundation program.

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About 25 volunteers spent Saturday morning and afternoon helping people prepare and file their 2018 personal tax returns in the Family Life Center at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa.

The group included 19 counselors, who prepared and filed the returns, five more administrative facilitators who greeted the clients, reviewed a questionnaire and their paperwork, plus two more who served as quality reviewers after the tax returns were completed.

“We’re always looking for more volunteers,” said Trent Moxley, the Harford County district coordinator for the Tax Aide program — he said later that about 77 returns had been processed Saturday.

Tax Aide volunteers have been seeing tax filers by appointment throughout Harford County since early February, but Saturday — the program’s 12th annual Maryland Tax Day — was a one-time event where people could drop in and be seen on a first-come, first-served basis at the church. The program was open to anyone regardless of income level. “We didn’t turn anyone away,” Moxley said.

Martin sat on the floor of the New Life Center, her back against a counter, filling out greeting cards and checking emails on her smartphone while she waited. She had arrived around 9:20 a.m. and was still waiting as of shortly after 11 a.m. She was among about 35 people who either stood in line or sat in chairs around the New Life Center lobby.

Martin said she learned about the program from her father, a former Tax Aide volunteer. She has taken part in the drop-in Tax Day event in the past, saying the wait then was “several hours, so I knew what to expect” Saturday, and she has also made an appointment last year — she went to Tax Day this year because of her work schedule.

“Not only do I have last year’s paper copy [of my return], but they can pull me up in the system as well,” said Martin, who works for a biotechnology firm in Gaithersburg.

She expected her 2018 return “could be slightly trickier than last year’s,” as she worked at some part-time jobs last year and started her current job in June.

Martin also said she suspected she would owe taxes this year, based on the tax reform law passed by Congress and signed by President Donald J. Trump in 2017.

Another group of taxpayers sat and waited in the Mountain Cafe, the same room where volunteers helped people process their returns. That group included Army veteran David Young of Bel Air, his wife Peggy and daughter Pamela Rumsey of Edgewood.

David Young served during the Vietnam War and was deployed to Vietnam in 1971, where he was wounded in action. He later worked as a civilian chef at Aberdeen Proving Ground for 10 years and is now retired. Peggy Young is retired from the Harford County Office on Aging.

David read a hardcover copy of “The Book of Useless Information,” with its bright red covers, while waiting. He and his wife praised the Tax Aide program for its convenience and friendly and efficient volunteers — plus the fact that it is free — and said they want to get their returns done and move along.

Rumsey, who works for the state of Maryland, expressed concerns about new tax laws and the significant increase in the standard deduction for federal taxes from the 2017 to 2018 tax years — $6,350 to $12,000 for single filers and $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly or qualifying widowers.

“I’ve been hearing that people are getting less [back] on their taxes,” said Rumsey, who hoped she could still itemize her deductions.

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Married couple Dave and Melissa Graham, of Bel Air, who filed a joint return, worked with volunteer Bruce McCommons, who serves as the training coordinator for the program.

“We’ve never had to owe anything, and that’s what I’m scared of,” said Melissa Graham, who works as a receptionist at Bel Air Orthodontics.

David Graham said he is a service manager for his family’s pest control company, Walker’s Pest Control. The couple used Credit Karma to file their taxes last year.

“With all the tax changes ... I wanted to make sure I’m getting everything I need to be getting in there,” Melissa Graham said of potential tax deductions.

The Grahams said, once they finished, that they ended up owing taxes.

“We’re not happy about that [but] the service is wonderful,” David Graham said, his wife adding that they will return to Tax Aide next year.

“We appreciate their time and talent,” David Graham said.

McCommons is in his 18th year as a Tax Aide volunteer. He is retired, having worked as a civilian employee at Aberdeen Proving Ground and later in the private sector, primarily as a “user interface designer.”

He noted most of the volunteer counselors do not have an accounting background, but are retired dentists, physicists, Army officers and engineers. Moxley, the coordinator, said counselors go through about 10 days of training and must pass state and IRS tests.

McCommons said he has prepared about 50 returns over the past three weeks, helping people who are low income, middle income and higher earners.

He said higher-income earners, who have itemized their deductions in the past but are taking the standard federal deduction this year, are paying less federal taxes. This is because the federal deduction has increased.

The state of Maryland has also increased its deduction, from $4,000 to $4,500, but it is not high enough, so higher-income taxpayers who take the federal and Maryland deductions end up paying more “in the aggregate,” according to McCommons.

He said a number of people are “getting a little bit of a break on their federal — nothing huge but not trivial either — but whether in the aggregate, they end up paying more or less, depends on what happens to them on the state side.”

People can get their personal tax returns processed and filed through Tax Aide through April 15 by appointment. Call 410-638-3425 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, to schedule.

McCommons encouraged people to volunteer with Tax Aide. Anyone interested can call him at 410-322-3303 or Moxley at 410-322-7142.

Taxpayer Rose Matchett, of Aberdeen, said she will receive a lower tax refund this year because the federal government is taking less taxes out of her retirement pension — she retired from the Army in 1989 after nearly 20 years as a medic.

Matchett, who has used Tax Aide for three years, praised how the service is offered for free.

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“Every little bit helps these days,” she said.

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