ST. PETERSBURG — The room is buzzing at the St. Petersburg Public Library as people wait to get their taxes done by volunteers for AARP's Tax-Aide Program.
Some sit with a tax counselor at tables laid out in a U-shape. Others wait to have their taxes prepared or for their just-prepared returns to be checked and verified before they are e-filed.
AARP's Tax-Aide Program provides free tax preparation and assistance to millions of low- and middle-income taxpayers. Special attention is given to those 60 and older, but the service is available to all ages. And you don't have to be an AARP member.
"We take anybody who walks through the door," said volunteer Betty Beck, who prepares returns at the Sunshine Center at 330 Fifth St. N, St. Petersburg.
The service will run through April 15.
Delinda Peterson of St. Petersburg does her own taxes, but has her work double-checked by the service. And "it's free e-file," she said.
Last year, about 13,600 returns were processed and filed in Pinellas County, according to Diane Hernan, state coordinator for the Florida 5 district.
"We have a lot of people who go through here," Beck said. In one day, the Sunshine Center will process 30 to 40 returns. At the library, about 70 were processed in one day. It is the busiest location in South Pinellas, said Peter Bishop, site coordinator. Bishop has been a volunteer for four years. As site coordinator, he must get the site going "like a smooth-oiled machine. There are a lot of people coming in, and we try to get them out as soon as we can.''
There are 750 volunteers in the district, according to Hernan, and they come from "all walks of life. Some are engineers, about 50 percent have college degrees and some are truck drivers."
One volunteer at the Pinellas Park Public Library is an anesthesiologist, Hernan said.
All volunteers must receive about 50 hours of training.
"We train every year," said volunteer Katy Johnson, a retired accountant who works at the Sunshine Center and the library. Once training has ended, everyone is required to pass a test to become a certified tax counselor.
"We can answer questions regarding all the new tax laws," said Alyssa Dowd, a St. Petersburg resident and volunteer at the Sunshine Center and library.
There are certain areas, however, such as depreciation and amortization, the volunteers do not do because they are too complicated.
Once a return has been prepared, it is electronically filed.
The public benefits, but what do the volunteers get?
"Volunteering gives you a lot of satisfaction," Hernan said. A retired nurse, Hernan taught practical nursing for Pinellas County schools for about 25 years.
Mike C. Russo, who also volunteers at the library, said volunteering "gives you a sense of value."