January 29, 2007

Low-income families can get free tax help


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Barb Henza, financial educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, trains volunteers who will be providing assistance to people filing income tax returns, including Gladys Patrick of Homer (seated right).

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Low-income residents in Cortland County can get free help completing their tax returns through a group of local volunteers and a program funded by the Internal Revenue Service.
Starting Thursday, low-income individuals, families and senior citizens will be able to stop at one of several sites in the county to go through the process.
“It’s really to help consumers file their taxes,” said Barb Henza, financial educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, which is putting on the program. “A lot of consumers don’t feel comfortable (filing their taxes), especially those with a low income or limited income.”
This is the third year Cooperative Extension has headed the program, she said. The first year it helped 54 people, the second year 192 and this year it expects to help at least 300 people.
“I could see us possibly hitting 500 returns this year,” Henza said.
The agency works with other local agencies, including the Cortland County Community Action Program, the YWCA, Cortland Works and United Way to run the program, she said.
Henza said those agencies are providing paper, ink cartridges and recruitment services, while the IRS is providing the agencies with four laptop computers, training books, software and technical support for the program.
Henza said so far five local residents have volunteered to help people with their returns, though more volunteers would be appreciated.
On Saturday, Chuck Uttech and Gladys Patrick, two of the volunteers, were being trained by Henza in how to help consumers and use the necessary software.
Their training consisted of three hours of lectures and two hours of sample problems on the computer.
Volunteers also have to pass a test in order to become certified to help people with their tax returns.
Both volunteers said they heard about the need for volunteers through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, of which they are members.
Uttech, 63, of Lapeer, said he thinks it is very important to offer free income tax return help to low-income families, who often lack tax knowledge.
“If they are already struggling with their income it’s to give them some relief from going to a tax preparation place,” said Uttech, 63, of Lapeer.
Patrick, 68, of Homer, said she likes how volunteering helps others as well as the volunteers.
“It’s really good because it keeps us active mentally and physically,” Patrick said.
Henza said at the end of each day consumers are helped she will send their tax returns off to the government electronically.
Kevin McKeon, an IRS spokesman, said people typically receive their refunds within 10 days.
Henza said so far the IRS has accepted all of the returns without a problem, as the software that volunteers use has safeguards to ensure questions are answered properly.
She said if the IRS had a problem with a return, its office in Buffalo would handle the problem.

How to get free tax preparation

Those eligible for free tax preparation range from single people without children who earn $14,000 or less a year to families that earn no more than $41,000 a year, said Barb Henza, financial educator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County.
Also, people 60 and older who need basic income tax return preparation help are eligible for the program.
Those interested should call the Cooperative Extension of Cortland County at (607) 753-5077 to make sure they are eligible and to set up an appointment.
Appointments can be set up for Thursdays at the Cortland Works One-Stop Career Center at 99 Main St.; Saturdays at the County Office Building; Mondays at CAPCO’s Women, Infant and Children’s (WIC) centers; and Wednesdays at senior centers.
The program will start Thursday, but spots for that day already are taken, Henza said.
She said volunteers will be helping people until April 15.
— Christine Laubenstein


Homer soldier’s body returns home

Shawn Falter
Pfc. Shawn Falter

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The body of a local man killed in Iraq last week returned home Sunday.
Escorted by State Police, the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, city police and village of Homer police, the casket of Army Pfc. Shawn Falter, 25, who was killed in action Jan. 20, was transported from Ithaca airport, across county lines and into the village about noon, according to Homer Mayor Mike McDermott.
“It was really something — just fantastic cooperation between law enforcement agencies — it couldn’t have gone better,” McDermott said, adding that Falter’s family didn’t want to publicize the procession.
Calling hours for Falter, a 1999 graduate of Homer High School, will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at Grace Christian Fellowship Church on Fisher Avenue, Cortland, according to the Donald Barber Funeral Home of Homer, which is handling the arrangements.
A service with full military honors will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the church, followed by interment in Glenwood Cemetery in Homer.
Falter, who had been deployed to Iraq out of Fort Richardson, Alaska, apparently was killed during an ambush on provincial headquarters in Karbala, according to The Associated Press.
Military accounts of the incident changed over the course of last week.
Military officials now are saying that four of the five American servicemen killed in the attack were kidnapped by the attackers, their bodies found about 25 miles outside the city, according to wire reports.
Originally, it had been reported that all five were killed in the initial attack.
The village of Homer and surrounding communities have rallied around Falter’s family, adorning Main Street with red, white and blue ribbons and organizing various ways to assist his family.
Anyone wishing to make contributions in Falter’s memory can direct them to the Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit agency that arranges housing for military families to be close to hospitalized loved ones.


Moravia to vote on $28M school project

Staff Reporter

MORAVIA — The Moravia Central School District is asking voters to approve a $27.5 million project to renovate and improve district buildings.
The district is holding a public information meeting at 7 p.m. on  Wednesday in the Middle/Senior High School cafeteria.
A public vote will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 13 at the district office conference room. The Board of Education approved the project on Dec. 13.
Superintendent of Moravia Schools William Tammaro said the district is very much in need of a capital project.
“Our boilers are on their last leg,” Tammaro said. “The bus garage lifts have fallen three times.”
He said temporary jacks have been used to back up the lifts, and they held up the buses when the lifts failed.
Tammaro added that furniture in the district is deteriorating and kitchen equipment such as the dishwasher is held together by duct tape.
In proposition one of the project, the district is looking to make improvements to the elementary school, middle/high school, greenhouse, bus garage and maintenance building.
At Millard Fillmore Elementary School, the district wants to spend $945,000 to replace the roof, which Tammaro said leaks and is way past its useful life.
He also said the original boilers at the school would be replaced, and an auditorium addition is planned.
Some of improvements to the Middle/Senior High School include upgrades to science classrooms, lighting, and the heating and ventilation system, and restoring the exterior masonry.
The district plans to make wheelchair access improvements at the greenhouse and at the bathrooms and exterior entrances at the elementary school.
A new maintenance facility would be built for $3,185,000 at the site of the existing bus garage, which would be demolished, off Aurora Street.
Proposition two hinges on the approval of proposition one. If the plan to renovate the district’s building is passed, proposition two would add a fitness center at the Middle/Senior High School for $624,000.
The district is eligible to receive $340,328 in Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning aid. EXCEL is state aid that was created last year for health and safety improvements in school districts.
EXCEL aid will help reduce the local share of the project, bringing it  to $7.75 million.
A taxpayer with a house assessed at $100,000 would pay an average of $122 annually over 15 years to fund the improvements, but the figure may be lowered, Tammaro said.



Office to offer free dental care to children Friday

Staff Reporter

A Cortland dental office will be giving free dental screenings, cleanings, fluoride treatments and education to low-income children in the area on Friday.
Dr. Shahida Qazi’s office at 84 N. Main St. is one of thousands across the country that will be participating in Give Kids a Smile day. It is the only office in Cortland County and in the eastern half of Tompkins County that will take part, said Fred Peterson, an American Dental Association spokesman.
All children will receive a toothbrush, toothpaste and an activity booklet.
Tabatha Marshall, office manager for Qazi, said this is the third year her office has participated in the program. She said only a couple of families took advantage of the free services both years, and that she hopes more will sign up for appointments this year.
“I’d love to see a great turnout,” she said.
Children ages 6 to 12 are eligible for the services, though if younger children really need help, they can get it.
Marshall said normally the services are for families that don’t have dental insurance, but the office is open to helping other children as well.
“Anyone that pretty much calls, I’m letting them do it,” Marshall said.
In addition to helping low-income children get the dental care they need, a goal of the volunteer day is to highlight to policy- and lawmakers the ongoing challenges that children face in receiving dental care, she said.
Marshall said offices that participate in the Give Kids a Smile day are supposed to fill out a survey online soon after about how many children they saw, whether the children have dental insurance and the status of their teeth.
“We report back to the ADA and the ADA passes it on (to the lawmakers),” she said.
So far, 749,709 children and 14,276 dentists nationwide have signed up for the program, according to the American Dental Association. Those interested locally should contact Marshall at (607) 753-1843.